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Mitsubishi issues apology to US POWs used as wartime slave labor

The Japanese corporation Mitsubishi has issued an apology to American prisoners of war who were forced into slave labor during World War II. The acceptance of wrongdoing does not include financial compensation.

The apology was made in a solemn ceremony hosted by the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Former prisoner of war James Murphy was there to formally accept acknowledgement of the corporation's guilt. The proceedings took place in front of a projected image of the US and Japanese flags.

The 94-year-old, who worked in Mitsubishi's copper mines as a slave laborer, said the apology had been sincere and remorseful. "This is a glorious day," Murphy said. "For 70 years we wanted this."

While Mitsubishi has long been a household name, its wartime past has been a source of shame. The conglomerate, which today makes products ranging from cement to electronics, forced some 900 American POWs to work for it during World War II. They were among thousands of other US prisoners who were used as slave labor by Japanese firms during the war.

The Japanese government issued a wider apology five years ago to all US POWs who were forced to work under slave labor conditions. It remains unclear what prompted the apology by Mitsubishi.

Although no money is being offered as compensation by the corporation, Murphy said it was still "a big deal" to him. He added that other companies following suit would provide closure for many other veterans.

'A complete horror'

Murphy was shipped to Japan as a POW two-and-a-half years after his capture in the Philippines, where he was serving as a radio operator for the US Army Air Corps. He spent one year at a copper mine near Hanawa with some 500 other POWs, and described the experience as "a complete horror."

Murphy said the situation had been all the more painful because the captives knew Mitsubishi built planes that would be used against America.

A delegation from Mitsubishi Materials is to travel on Tuesday to a small museum in Wellsburg, West Virginia. The museum commemorates American POWs who - like Murphy - survived the notorious Bataan Death March. Thousands of other Americans and Filipinos perished on the 65-mile (105-kilometer) march to prison camps after their defeat by Japanese forces.

Korean and Chinese prisoners were also forced into slave labor, and reparations have been demanded from other Japanese companies in a string of legal cases.

rc/cmk (AP, AFP)