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South Korean leader criticises Japan over Second World War ‘comfort women’

The South Korean and Japanese governments had signed an accord in 2015 which was supposed to have settled the issue.

South Korea’s president has criticised Japan’s insistence that the issue of women forced to provide sex for Japanese troops during the Second World War has been settled.

In a speech marking the 99th anniversary of the launch of an independence movement from Japanese colonisation, President Moon Jae-in said: “The Japanese government, the perpetrator, should not say the matter is closed.

“The issue of a crime against humanity committed in time of war cannot be closed with just a word. A genuine resolution of unfortunate history is to remember it and learn a lesson from it.”

People attend a ceremony celebrating the 99th anniversary of the March First Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule at Seodaemun Prison History Hall (AP)

The South Korean leader’s speech took place at a prison used by Japan to hold freedom fighters during the colonial era.

So-called comfort women provided sex for Japan’s military in conditions widely considered to be sexual slavery. Many of the women were from Korea, a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945, and were taken to front-line brothels.

The previous South Korean government, under conservative president Park Geun-hye, signed an accord with Japan in late 2015 to settle the issue, which has harmed bilateral relations. Both governments called the agreement “final and irreversible”.

Mr Moon’s government has not tried to revise the accord, but he has questioned it.

Performers re-enact the March First Independence Movement Day in the 1919 uprising against Japanese colonial rule in Seoul (AP)

The Japanese government has lodged a “strong protest” over Mr Moon’s latest remarks, which chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said went against the 2015 agreement.

Mr Suga said: “Japan has done everything in accordance with the accord. We, then, strongly demand that South Korea fulfils its side of the pledge.”

Mr Moon also used the occasion to criticise Japan’s claim to a group of small islands which both countries say they own.

“It is our indigenous territory,” the South Korean leader said of the islands, called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

“Japan’s current denial of this fact is no different from rejecting self-reflection of (its) imperialistic invasion.”

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