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In a speech marking a national holiday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said that Japan cannot declare the issue of wartime sex slaves to have been relegated to history. He said Japan must apologize.
Re-opening a sensitive issue, South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday said Japan cannot declare the issue of its former wartime sex slaves "over." He called on Tokyo to apologize over the issue and confront wrongdoings.
Moon made the comments during a speech marking a national holiday commemorating Korean resistance to Japanese that Japan was in no position to declare the emotionally charged issue settled.
"As the perpetrator, the Japanese government shouldn't say 'it's over'," said Moon. "Wartime crimes against humanity can't be swept under the rug by saying 'it's over'."
Moon's comments drew an immediate rebuke from Tokyo.
The controversy of the so-called comfort women — those forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II — has been a sensitive issue for South Korea and tarnished relations between the two countries for decades.
Park Geun-Hye, Moon's ousted predecessor, negotiated a deal in 2015 with Tokyo under which Seoul promised not to raise the issue again. In return, Japan paid 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) to a foundation dedicated to supporting the victims.
In the agreement, Tokyo fell short of taking legal responsibility for Japan's actions which angered some victims. After taking office,Moon condemned the dealas a "wrongful" solution and urged Japan to make a "heartfelt apology".
In 2011 former South Korean comfort woman Kil Un-ock protested and demanded an apology from Japan
"The issue of the comfort women cannot be declared 'over' by the Japanese government," Moon said in a speech which marked the anniversary of the country's 1919 uprising against Japanese colonial rule.
"The true way of resolving a tragic history is to remember that history and to learn from it," said Moon. He also expressed hopes for strong future relations "with the closest neighbor on the backdrop of a sincere apology".
Japan angered by Moon speech
Moon's remarks drew a quick response from Japan, which termed them "extremely regrettable".
A top Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, told a regular press conference: "President Moon mentioned the comfort women issue althoughwe confirmed the final, irreversible conclusion in the 2015 agreement betweenJapan and South Korea."
"It goes against the Japan-South Korea agreement. We cannot accept it at all and feel it is extremely regrettable. We immediately conveyed our stance and made a strong protest to the South Korean side through diplomatic channels."
Historians say that during World War II, up to 200,000 women, mainly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia and other Asian nations, were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese.
Many South Koreans remain bitter about the abuses under Japan's ruthless 1910-45 colonial rule, including the issue of the wartime sex slaves.
However, most Japanese feel they have atoned enough for the country's wartime aggression, including the comfort women issue, after numerous apologies and statements on the war.
av/rc (AFP, Reuters)