‘Comfort woman’ dies at 91; survivors down to 52

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‘Comfort woman’ dies at 91; survivors down to 52

Lee Hyo-sun, who was one of the Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, has passed away. She was 91.

Lee, who resided in Changwon, South Gyeongsang, died at 7:50 p.m. Wednesday at a local hospital. According to a civic group supporting her, the cause was old age. Lee had been hospitalized since November for a blood infection and worsening asthma.

With her passing, the number of surviving “comfort women” - a euphemistic term for the tens of thousands of young women and girls forced into wartime military brothels by the Japanese - stands at 52, down from the 238 women who were registered with the government as victims of sexual slavery.

Born in 1925 in Uiryeong County, South Gyeongsang, Lee was forced at just 16 years old to work in military brothels in Taiwan, China, Singapore and Vietnam.

After Korea was liberated from Japan following the end of World War II, Lee returned in 1947 to her home country. However, she was soon forced to leave because of the large stigma against wartime rape victims.

After living in Busan, Masan and Seoul, where relatives lived, she finally settled in Changwon in 2007, where her younger sister resides. As her health deteriorated, Lee stayed at a convalescent care facility.

Lee Gyeong-hui, a representative for the civic group, said the 91-year-old often expressed to her visitors her hope to receive an apology from the Japanese government for its wartime crimes, though she was also aware of the possibility that it may never come.

Registered as a victim of wartime sexual slavery by the Imperial Japan, Lee made her living with financial support from the government.

The controversy surrounding comfort women has continued to be a source of historical dispute between Korea and Japan, adding to tensions and straining relations.

Since taking office, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tendencies toward historical revisionism have been criticized by state leaders worldwide.

His administration’s attempts last year to revise the 1993 Kono Statement, in which Japan acknowledged that it had forcibly recruited thousands of women from its former colonies to serve in military brothels, were also met with extreme backlash, especially from Seoul.

The civic group representing Lee will hold a special service for her today at her funeral.

BY WE SUNG-WOOK [nam.yoonseo@joongang.co.kr]

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