Bodies of 13 colonial-era laborers are repatriated

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Bodies of 13 colonial-era laborers are repatriated

The remains of 13 Koreans believed to have been forced to work as manual laborers on Sakhalin, an island off Russia’s east coast, were found earlier this week.

Eleven were stored Friday in a charnel house in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, while two others were buried separately by their families.

The move was the latest effort by the government to retrieve the bodies of the tens of thousands of Koreans forced into hard labor by Japan during its colonial rule over the peninsula.

The bodies were discovered on the island by their surviving relatives and cremated before arriving at Incheon International Airport on Thursday evening. A committee under the Prime Minister’s Office, which supports the surviving families of the victims who suffered under Japanese colonialism, led the discovery.

A memorial service at the National Mang-Hyang Cemetery was attended by representatives from the Japanese and Russian Embassies in Seoul.

Located 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Seoul, the National Mang-Hyang Cemetery stores the remains of compatriots who died in foreign lands, mostly Koreans who were forced to work abroad by Japan in the early 20th century.

The committee that led the search agreed with the Russian government in May 2013 to exhume the graves on Sakhalin and repatriate the bodies of those who were believed to have been forced into labor.

One was found in late 2013, and 18 last year, bringing the total to 32.

Among the tens of thousands of Koreans who were forced into hard labor at coal mines or Japanese military facilities during the colonial era, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates that 43,000 were stranded on Sakhalin, which was partly controlled by Tokyo at the time. Russia regained control after World War II.

In July, Japan’s Mitsubishi Materials announced that it would compensate the American and Chinese POWs forced into slavery in its mines during the war, but brushed off the idea that their Korean counterparts would receive a similar deal.

An outside director for the Japanese corporation said Koreans’ “legal situations are different” because the country was colonized by Japan in the early 20th century, technically making them Japanese citizens.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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