In interview, Park urges Abe to apologize for ‘comfort women’

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In interview, Park urges Abe to apologize for ‘comfort women’

President Park Geun-hye on Friday again urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to acknowledge and apologize for the Imperial Japanese Army’s forced mobilization of thousands of Korean women into frontline military brothels during World War II.

She added that the issue will become a “historical burden” for Tokyo if it leaves the issue unresolved.

The president made her most recent appeal at the Blue House on Friday during a group interview with members of the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies.

The dispute over an apology for the victims - who are euphemistically referred to as “comfort women” - has long stood in the way of Korea and Japan improving bilateral relations.

Seoul has repeatedly demanded that Tokyo directly and sincerely acknowledge its wartime atrocities. The victims were mostly Korean, though women from Japan’s other former colonies were also forced into military brothels, or “comfort stations.”

“Many of the victims are elderly and in their 90s. This year alone, eight have already passed away,” Park said.

“Unless the [Japanese government] resolves this issue, it will become a big historical burden on itself as well as on its future generation.”

Currently, only 47 former comfort women remain of the initial 238 victims recognized by the government.

Tokyo’s refusal to apologize, Park added, runs counter to the “widely shared sentiment of people around the world.”

The president’s interview came just a day before she is scheduled to embark on a weeklong diplomatic journey that will take her to Turkey for the Group of 20 Summit and the Philippines for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum from Nov. 18 to 19.

Abe is also expected to attend those events. The two are additionally scheduled to appear at the Asean+3 Summit on Nov. 21 in Malaysia.

On North Korea, Park said that she was open to holding what would be her first face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, noting there was “no reason” for the two Koreas to avoid a summit.

“If the summit could pave the way for improving inter-Korean relations and resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, then there is no reason not to hold talks,” she said.

However, Park added that before such a meeting could take place, both Koreas would have to work on building up mutual trust by following through with a series of joint agreements brokered over the summer.

While the president spoke optimistically, she also made sure to reiterate her earlier position that Pyongyang “only join in talks with a sincere and forward-looking attitude.”

She further emphasized the importance of the two Koreas following through with the series of agreements reached on Aug. 25, which defused rising tensions on the peninsula that nearly brought the two on the brink of an armed conflict.

Both sides, Park said, must cooperate to host regular reunions for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War and allow correspondence.

North and South Korea organized the 20th round of inter-Korean family reunions from Oct. 20 to 26 at the Mount Kumgang resort - the first in more than a year - though no further talks have been arranged to schedule the next event.

Park also said that it was important for the international community to send a “clear and consistent message” to North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and become a responsible member of global society.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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