Comfort women doubt today’s talks will matter

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Comfort women doubt today’s talks will matter

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Kim Bok-dong, 88, a former sex slave for the Japanese military during World War II, touches a newly erected statue of a Korean girl to honor the women, dubbed “The Girl Statue for Peace,” in front of Seongnam city government, Gyeonggi, yesterday. [NEWSIS]

Lee Ok-seon, who is 87, has scars on her right hand and right foot. The scars are more than seven decades old, but Lee has no trouble remembering when she got them.

Lee was one of thousands of Asian women, including Koreans, who were forced to be military sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, when Korea was under the colonial rule of Japan.

In July 1942, Lee tried running away from a military brothel in China after a soldier who was trying to rape her slashed her hand. She was caught by a Japanese soldier, and that’s when she got her second scar.

“They tried to cut my feet so I could not run away again,” Lee says. “My life was horribly painful when I was 15.”

When the JoongAng Ilbo visited the House of Sharing yesterday, a shelter for the so-called comfort women - a Japanese euphemism for the former military sex slaves - in Gwangju, Gyeonggi, a group of women there said they had no real expectations for the inter-governmental meeting today in Seoul in which they will be discussed.

The talks between high-ranking diplomats from South Korea and Japan are the first the two countries have held on the comfort women issue.

“When they plan a negotiation with Japan, the government should ask the women themselves how they think their dignity, which was so abused by Japan, can be restored and what kind of solutions the women want from the Japanese government,” Ahn Shin-gwon, the head of the shelter, said.

“But they did not even make a phone call to them,” he said. “I wonder if the [Korean] Foreign Ministry has the slightest idea of what the women want or need.”

In fact, the attitude of the Korean government contrasts with that of the Japanese government, Ahn said. Before today’s talks, several Japanese diplomats met with the managers of the shelter, which has been taking care of some of the comfort women since 1992.

On Feb. 7, three diplomats from the Japanese Embassy in Korea met with some managers of the shelter at a hotel in Seoul, according to the shelter. On March 17, Ahn met with Yasushi Yamamoto, an official of the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

“Although the Japanese officials repeated their position that the matter was already resolved in the Korea-Japan treaty in 1965 and that the Kono statement [by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993] apologized for the issue,” Ahn said, “they at least attempted to listen to the voices of the women.”

An official at the Korean Foreign Ministry said: “We already fully understand the position of the women.”

In 2011, the Korean Foreign Ministry launched a task force dubbed “TF for the Resolution of the 1965 Treaty,” led by a special ambassador.

However the leader of the team stepped down in February and has not been replaced.

Sources told the JoongAng Ilbo that the ministry is having trouble filling the post because it is regarded as unimportant. The team has sent letters to the Japanese government twice over the past three years, but Tokyo has never replied.

“Recently, I started to think that Japan might be waiting for all of the women to die,” Lee, the former sex slave, said. “We will die someday, of course, but it is important that history should remember us and our dignity should be restored.

“Some people say we are greedy for compensation,” she said. “But how can they pay me back for what I went through at 15? Our priority is that the Japanese prime minister acknowledges his country’s responsibility and restores our dignity.

“I spent my past life with a lowered head looking down at the floor,” she said. “If they sincerely apologize to us even now, why wouldn’t we, aged in our 90s, forgive them?”

Korea has only 55 former comfort women still living.

BY JEONG WON-YEOB [heejin@joongang.co.kr]



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