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UN chief praises Japan-Korea 'comfort women' accord

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has applauded Seoul and Tokyo's "leadership and vision," according to a UN statement. The issue of "comfort women" dates back to Japan's imperial practices during World War II.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday praised the efforts of Tokyo and Seoul in resolving a decades-long dispute concerning Korean women forced to work as sex slaves for imperial Japan during World War Two.

On Monday, South Korea and Japan announced a landmark agreement to "finally and irreversibly" resolve the issue of "comfort women," which has long plagued the two countries' ties.

Ban "appreciates President Park Geun-Hye of the Republic of Korea and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan for their leadership and vision for the betterment of the relationship between the two countries," said a statement from the secretary general's spokesperson.

Under the agreement, Japan formally apologized for forcing women from occupied Korea to work in Japanese brothels.

Tokyo also offered a one-billion-yen (7.56 million euros, $8.3 million) payment to Seoul for a fund aimed at helping former "comfort women."

"The secretary general has stressed the importance of the countries in Northeast Asia to build the future oriented relationship, based on the recognition of history," the statement added.

'A new era'

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also hailed the new agreement. "From now on, Japan and South Korea will enter a new era," Abe said after calling South Korean Prime Minister Park Geun-hye.

Park told the Japanese prime minister that she "hoped that since the two governments worked through a difficult process to reach this agreement, they can cooperate closely to start building trust and open a new relationship," according to a statement from her office.

While Korean activists estimate that more than 200,000 Korean women were forced to work in Japan's brothels, only 46 of the 238 women who came forward in South Korea remain alive.

"On the premise that the steps pledged by the Japanese government are earnestly carried out, the Korean government confirms that the matter [of comfort women] is finally and irreversibly resolved," Yun Byung-se told a news conference.

ls/bk (AFP, Reuters, dpa)