Abe asks Park to remove ‘comfort woman’ statue

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Abe asks Park to remove ‘comfort woman’ statue

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The life-size bronze statue of a young girl, known as the Peace Monument. [NEWSIS]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was reported to have asked President Park Geun-hye for the removal of a statue symbolizing victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery erected in front of his country’s embassy in Seoul, a sticky issue since the striking of the bilateral agreement on Dec. 28 to resolve the issue.

Abe was reported by Japanese media to have brought up this sensitive issue for the first time in person to Park during their bilateral talks in Laos on Wednesday on the sidelines of AN Asean regional summit. The life-size bronze statue of a young girl in traditional Korean clothing, known as the Peace Monument, represents the Imperial Japanese Army’s tens of thousands of former Korean sex slaves during World War II, euphemistically referred to as comfort women.

The Nikkei Asian Review reported Thursday that Abe said Japan has completed the 1 billion yen ($9.8 million) payment stipulated by the Dec. 28 agreement, and added, “Now we would like to see earnest efforts at implementing the agreement, including the removal of the statue.”

Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Park did not mention the statue issue and replied, “it is important to faithfully implement the agreement.”

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.

Announcing the agreement with Tokyo, Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se said Seoul will “acknowledge” Japan’s concerns over the monument, and that it will “negotiate with relevant organizations to deal with the issue.”

The agreement drew immediate backlash from comfort women victims and civic organizations who demanded that Tokyo take legal responsibility for their wartime atrocities. They also expressed anger at the implication that the statue could be relocated.

Abe and Park refrained from making any remarks about the statue during their bilateral summit in Washington at the end of March on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit, their first talks since the Dec. 28 agreement was struck.

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has emphasized that it is not the government’s place to meddle in the issue of the removal of the statue in front of the embassy, which was erected by civilians. It also said that the removal of the comfort women statue was not a precondition for the transfer of funds from the Japanese government.

“We have maintained the consistent position that the issue of the statue remains as announced by the two countries’ foreign ministers in the Dec. 28 agreement,” said Cho June-hyuck, spokesman of the Foreign Ministry. “Nothing more, nothing less.”


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

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