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South Korea faces backlash from WWII forced labor victims

March 7, 2023

South Koreans who were enslaved by Japanese companies during World War II denounced President Yoon Suk Yeol's new compensation plan, labeling it as "dirty money."

Yang Geum-deok, a survivor of forced labour under Japan's 1910-1945 colonial occupation, speaks during a protest denouncing the government plan to resolve a dispute over compensating forced labor victims, at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, March 7, 2023
Yang Geum-deok demands that the South Korean government withdraw its new compensation plan for WWII forced labor survivorsImage: Kim Hong-Ji/REUTERS

South Koreans who were forced to work for Japanese companies during World War II condemned a  new compensation plan introduced by the South Korean government claiming on Tuesday that it was "dirty money."

The plan aimed to pay the victims from the money taken by South Korean companies that profited from the 1965 reparations deal with Japan in an attempt to end a long-standing dispute between the two countries.

'Would not accept that dirty money'

South Korea's compensation scheme does not incorporate a fresh apology from Tokyo and includes only voluntary contributions from Mitsubishi and Nippon Steel — the two Japanese companies involved. The United States and Japan praised the plan.

But opposition lawmakers and activists joined the victims at a rally where they demanded a full apology and compensation from the companies involved.

Yang Geum-deok, a former forced worker at a Mitsubishi factory, said that she never "felt so distressed" in her life.

"Even if I die of hunger, I would not accept that dirty money," she yelled during a protest.

South Korean people holding red cards take part in a protest denouncing the government plan to resolve a dispute over compensating forced labor victims, at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, March 7, 2023
Hundreds of opposition lawmakers and activists joined the WWII victims of forced labor in the rally denouncing the government's planImage: Kim Hong-Ji/REUTERS

The head of the opposition Democratic Party, Lee Jae-myung, urged President Yoon Suk Yeol's government to withdraw the "insulting" plan. He claimed that it "isn't a solution and will only create new problems."

A dark history

During the colonial era, around 780,000 Koreans, were recruited into forced labor by Japan, according to data from Seoul.

Japanese troops also forced Korean women into sexual slavery, numbers of which have not been accounted for in the data.

But Japan has pressed that the 1965 accord settled all the compensation issues.

The treaty aimed to restore the strained relations between Tokyo and Seoul following the 35-year Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula until the end of the World War.

Yoon also defended his government's compensation scheme on Tuesday stating that it was crucial for not only bilateral but global "freedom, peace and prosperity."

However, the lawyers representing the victims said that they will continue their efforts to secure payments from the Japanese companies despite the government's plan.

"It was the Japanese who dragged us to Japan. Who do we turn to demand an apology?" victim Kim Sung-joo stated during the rally.

aa/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect the correct spelling of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol's name.