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Merkel urges Tokyo to confront Japan's WWII sex slavery crimes

The German chancellor has called on Tokyo authorities to resolve the issue of "comfort women" in World War II. On the last day of her official visit, Merkel also met with female representatives from the private sector.

While meeting the head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, Katsuya Okada, Merkel said Tuesday that Tokyo should "go ahead with reconciliation" with its neighboring countries over the issue of the so-called "comfort women," who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese forces.

"Japan and South Korea share values," Merkel told Okada, according to Jiji Press. "It's better to resolve the ... issue properly."

Forced to work in brothels

Although official records are scarce, mainstream historians believe that up to 200,000 women were forced to work in military brothels for Japanese soldiers during World Word II. Most of the women are said to be from South Korea, but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Most historians agree that these women were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese army or its wartime government. On the other hand, some conservatives claim that the women were common prostitutes who willingly engaged in sex work.

Japanese wartime atrocities continue to burden the relationship with the countries' neighbors to this day.

Japan and Germany 'different'

On Monday, Merkel told a

news conference that settling wartime history

is "a prerequisite for reconciliation," referring to Germany's facing of its own past.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, however, insisted that it is "inappropriate to simply compare" Japan with Germany over their post-war settlement.

"The background - what happened to Japan and Germany during the war and what countries their neighbors are - is different," Kishida told reporters.

Free trade talks to continue

On the last day of her two-day Japan visit, the chancellor also met with a group of women in senior political and business positions. Angela Merkel considers the problems facing women to be one of the central topics of the current German G7 presidency. Issues such as closing the gender pay gap and balancing work and family life are expected to be on the agenda of the next G7 meeting in June 2015, in Bavaria.

Merkel also called for the completion of the

free trade talks between European Union and Japan

, after touring the Mitsubishi Fuso truck factory in Kawasaki. Ninety percent of the company is owned by Germany's Daimler AG, and the rest by Japan's Mitsubishi Corporation.

The tenth round of trade negotiations is set to begin in late April.

"There are many commonalities, there are differences, but there are good reasons to intensify relations between Germany and Japan," Merkel said.

Merkel is scheduled to leave Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon.

dj/sb (dpa, AFP)

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