A South Korean official on Wednesday denied Japanese news reports that Seoul agreed to relocate a statue symbolizing victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery in exchange for compensation for the women, Yonhap reports.
The statue of a girl, which sits across from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, has been a source of friction between the two countries as they have sought to resolve issues related to the wartime atrocity.
Historians estimate that more than 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. The victims are euphemistically called ‘comfort women.’
On Monday, Seoul and Tokyo reached a breakthrough deal in which the Japanese government apologized and offered reparations of 1 billion yen to the victims. South Korea agreed to end the dispute once and for all if Japan fully implements the deal.
Japanese news reports on Wednesday, however, claimed the deal also included a tacit agreement to remove the statue. If confirmed true, the South Korean government would face severe public backlash.
“Japan made no such demand during the negotiations,” the official told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity. “Not only is it impossible, it makes no sense at all.”
The reports are “pure fabrication,” he added.
According to Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, Japan made a request to have the statue removed before it pays 1 billion yen to a foundation to be set up by the South Korean government. South Korea expressed its intention to positively consider the request, the paper said.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper claimed South Korea agreed to relocate the statue if Japan pays the reparations.
In announcing the deal Monday, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said South Korea would work to address Japan’s demands for the statue’s relocation through talks with relevant groups. The statue was erected by victims and their supporters in 2011.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters the same day he understands the statue would be “properly relocated.”
‘Comfort women’ slam deal
Hundreds of South Korean protesters joined two surviving former ‘comfort women’ on Wednesday to denounce an agreement with Japan, Reuters reports.
The two criticized the government for agreeing with Japan on Monday to “finally and irreversibly” settle the issue.
“The government cannot be trusted,” said one of the women, Lee Yong-su, 88.
She said she and fellow survivors were never consulted by officials at they negotiated the agreement.
“We will continue to fight until the end,” she said.
She and the other protesters, including students, opposition legislators and civic activists, are demanding what they call a sincere apology from Japan and formal compensation for victims.
“We did nothing wrong,” Lee said. “Japan took us to be comfort women and still tries to deny its crime.”