Ex-Sakhalin Koreans file appeal against gov’t

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Ex-Sakhalin Koreans file appeal against gov’t

A group of forced laborers during World War II who have permanently resettled here after decades of living on the Russian island of Sakhalin filed a petition against the Korean government on Friday, claiming Seoul’s inertia in negotiating with Tokyo for compensation for them “infringes upon basic rights.”

Some 2,300 Koreans who were forcibly drafted into the Japanese workforce on Sakhalin during the 1910-1945 Japanese colonial rule said the Seoul government’s failure to actively seek negotiations with Japan over reparations is “unconstitutional,” leading them to file the appeal against the foreign minister for a constitutional ruling.

Japan forcibly mobilized about 150,000 Koreans to work at coal mines, pulp mills and military facilities on Sakhalin during the war, when the southern part of the Russian island was under Japanese control.

After the war, about 43,000 Korean were stranded on the island, becoming “stateless people.” Korea launched a program to help them return home permanently in 1992.

“After being dragged to Sakhalin, we worked for nearly 12 hours every day and forcibly deposited wages in Japan’s postal savings. But Japan has not given back the money,” the head of the victims’ group said.

Some 100 million Japanese yen ($1.22 million) is presumed to have been deposited, and the victims are demanding 20 billion yen in compensation taking inflation into consideration.

“[The Korean] government should actively discuss the matter with Japan in accordance with a bilateral agreement in 1965 which stipulates the two sides address conflicts through diplomatic talks or an arbitration panel,” he added.

Japan has ignored Seoul’s demands for official talks on compensating wartime victims, including forced laborers and sex slaves, claiming all issues regarding its colonial rule were settled in a 1965 package compensation deal under which the two countries normalized their relations.

In the Sakhalin Koreans’ case, Tokyo maintains their property rights lapsed upon their returning home and acquiring Korean citizenship, while Seoul believes those who returned home after 1965 should still exercise their rights.

“Korea’s Constitution states the country should protect the public rights and interests by exercising its diplomatic rights,” said Kyung Soo-keun, a lawyer for the victims, adding he expects “a satisfactory ruling if similar previous cases serve as any guide.”

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