Japan pays ¥1 billion to ‘comfort women’ fund

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Japan pays ¥1 billion to ‘comfort women’ fund

The Korean government confirmed Thursday that Japan paid 1 billion yen to a Seoul-based foundation to support victims of wartime sexual slavery, a crucial step in the implementation of last year’s bilateral agreement to resolve the issue.

“Today, 1 billion yen, 100 percent from the Japanese government’s budget, was transferred,” said Cho June-hyuck, spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, in a briefing. “Our government sees this as having created a foothold to officially launch the activities of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation.”

The Reconciliation and Healing Foundation was launched in late July following the Dec. 28 agreement between Seoul and Tokyo to resolve the issue of the Imperial Japanese Army’s forced recruitment of young women into sexual slavery during World War II. It is supposed to support the victims, who are euphemistically referred to as comfort women.

“From now on, we look forward to the foundation collecting the victims’ opinions faithfully and humbly and carry out tailored projects for these victims to restore their honor and dignity as soon as possible and to heal their hearts,” Cho said.

Tokyo wired the amount the previous day, and the foundation confirmed the reception in its bank account.

Last Dec. 28, the two countries’ foreign ministries struck a “final and irreversible” agreement to resolve the comfort women issue, which included an apology from the Japanese prime minister and a plan to establish a 1 billion yen fund for the victims taken from Japan’s state budget.

However, the agreement and the launching of the foundation in late July didn’t satisfy some civic organizations and victims who want Tokyo to take clearer legal responsibility for the war crimes and pay actual damages to the victims. Some of the victims have said they will refuse money from the foundation.

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that registered survivors will be eligible to receive 100 million won through the foundation, while family members of deceased victims would be eligible to receive 20 million won.

While the bulk of the money transferred by Japan will be given to registered comfort women victims directly by the foundation, around 20 percent is expected to be allocated to projects to memorialize the victims.

There were 245 comfort women victims who registered with the Korean government, and only 46 survivors on the date of the signing of the bilateral agreement.

On Tuesday, a dozen victims filed a lawsuit with the Seoul Central District Court against the Korean government demanding compensation of 100 million won per person. They said it failed to follow through with a 2011 Constitutional Court ruling that determined the Korean government’s lack of action to help comfort women victims get compensation from Japan was unconstitutional.

“After the complaint is filed, the Foreign Ministry will follow related legal procedures,” said Cho on the lawsuit.

With the transfer of the money, Tokyo may again press for the removal of a bronze statue of a girl representing comfort women victims in front of the Japanese embassy in central Seoul, which Korea has said is a matter left to the civic organizations who erected it.

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

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