Foundation for comfort women moves forward

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Foundation for comfort women moves forward

Tokyo and Seoul are expected to set up a foundation following an agreement to resolve the issue of the Japanese military’s wartime sex slaves, according to Japanese media.

The Asahi Shimbun, citing multiple sources from Korea and Japan, reported Thursday that the Korean government formed an unofficial task force early this year to make preparations for such a foundation.

The task force, it said, held multiple meetings on the project, as well as discussions on how to cooperate with Japan.

It added that if the forming of a preparatory committee goes smoothly, the foundation could be launched as early as May and that the Korea-Japan agreement can officially enter into force.

The issue of the Imperial Japanese Army’s forceful recruitment of tens of thousands of young women and girls into sexual slavery for its frontline brothels has for decades been a thorn in the side of these two countries’ diplomatic ties. These victims are euphemistically referred to as “comfort women.”

After long rounds of negotiation, which began in April 2014, the two countries’ foreign ministries struck a breakthrough deal on Dec. 28 to resolve the comfort women issue, which includes an apology from the Japanese prime minister and a plan to establish a fund for the victims, using 1 billion yen ($9.1 million) to be taken from Japan’s state budget.

The two countries also agreed that the settlement is “final and irreversible,” as long as Japan faithfully follows through with it.

However, some former victims and civilian organizations have criticized the agreement for not failing to fully address their grievances, including their desire to see Tokyo take full legal responsibility.

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday that it is working to faithfully implement the Dec. 28 agreement to recover the honor and dignity of the victims.

Cho June-hyuck, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a briefing Thursday, “Our goal is to launch the foundation as soon as possible.” He added that the Foreign Ministry is also cooperating with the Gender Equality Ministry and other related agencies in order to establish the foundation to support the former sex slaves, which will be funded by the Japanese government.

“We are seeking opinions from experts in the academia and listening to a lot of viewpoints,” Cho added. However, he also said he was not able to specify when the preparatory committee will be formed.

He said that during the Korean and Japanese foreign ministries’ working level talks, held Wednesday, the two sides discussed how and when to launch the foundation and its purpose. Chung Byung-won, director-general of the ministry’s Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau, spoke with his Japanese counterpart, Kimihiro Ishikane, director-general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.

On Tuesday, Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam held bilateral talks with his Japanese counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki. This came alongside trilateral talks that also involved U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Lim and Saiki, according to the Korean Foreign Ministry in a statement, agreed to accelerate efforts to implement the Korea-Japan agreement on comfort women, including establishing a foundation through which to provide assistance to the former sex slave victims.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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