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"Comfort women" issue to be center in upcoming Japan, S. Korea talks

Japan and South Korea on Wednesday will hold talks centering on the "comfort women" issue that has been a major contributor to soured ties between the two nations.

Japan will be represented by Kimihiro Ishikane, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, officials said here Tuesday, while South Korea will see Lee Sang Deok, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau, voice its opinions on the matter.

But the two sides' senior representatives are hoping to make some headway on the issue following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye agreeing to expedite talks on the matter follwoing a recent summit in Seoul.

In talks held in Seoul on Nov. 2, the first between Abe and Park since they both came into their respective offices, owing to differing perceptions on history and an ongoing territorial dispute, the representatives from each side have been charged with moving discussions forwards towards eventually reaching a joint agreement on the thorny issue.

"With this year marking the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties, we agreed to accelerate negotiations with the aim of concluding them as early as possible." the prime minister told reporters here Tuesday.

The widely-used term "comfort women" is a euphemism used to describe the girls and women, largely from the Korean Peninsular, but also from other Asian nations, who were forcibly coerced into working in military brothels and serving members of Japan's Imperial Army, during its brutal wartime occupation of the peninsular.

While tensions between the two sides have recently been viewed as thawing, following a trilateral summit held recently between Japan, South Korea and China and subsequent one-on-one meetings held by Abe and Park during the Seoul-based meetings, the comfort women issue, as far as South Korea is concerned remains far from being dealt with adequately by the Japanese side.

South Korea believes that Japan should thoroughly account for its culpability in the wartime mass-rapes of Korean women and apologize and compensate the victims in a way the survivors find acceptable.

For Japan's part, it believes the matter of compensation was resolved in a 1995 bilateral treaty that saw diplomatic ties between the two countries normalized.

But questions remains over the issue, as during Abe's first stint as prime minister between 2006-2007, Abe himself stated there was "no proof" of coercion regarding the forced conscription of comfort women during the war and his deputy chief cabinet secretary at the time, Hakubun Shimomura, also said it was possible the Japanese Army was "not involved."

Abe, an unabashed historical revisionist, has since tried to dabble with the landmark Kono Statement which admits Japan's culpability and forcible conscription of comfort women and while the statement was not eventually altered as the prime minister intended, he let it be known that he disagreed with some of the findings that led to the statement's original compilation. The same negation by Abe has also being seen with the globally-accepted Murayama Statement.

Director-general level talks on the comfort women issue became stalled due to an emerging spat between the two countries over Japan's moves to list with UNESCO as World Heritage sites historical industrial areas and complexes in Japan, some of which were also used as labor camps for South Korean prisoners of war.

According to accounts of the labor camps, the work was so severe that a number of those imprisoned died while carrying out their forced duties.

[Source: Xinhua, Tokyo, 10Nov15]

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