SEOUL – Tomiichi Murayama, whose time as prime minister is remembered for his 1995 apology over wartime aggression, met Tuesday with three South Korean “comfort women” who served as sex slaves to Japanese troops.
“Please stay healthy,” the 89-year-old Murayama told the women as he clasped their hands at an exhibition of artworks by comfort women being held in the South Korean parliament complex in Seoul.
One of the three women, Kang Ul-Chul, told Murayama through an interpreter that the Japanese government should apologize properly to the former sex slaves and provide compensation.
They also presented him with one of the artworks, titled “Flower destroyed unbloomed.”
Murayama served as prime minister from 1994 to 1996 and is best remembered for his 1995 speech in which he publicly apologized for Japanese atrocities during World War II.
Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula remains a hugely emotional issue in South Korea, which believes Japan has failed to live up to the spirit of the 1995 apology and not properly atoned for its past aggression.
Relations hit a new low in December when the current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, visited controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates around 2.5 million Japanese war dead — including several high-level war criminals.
Murayama arrived Tuesday for a three-day visit at the invitation of an opposition party.
He reportedly requested a meeting with President Park Geun-hye but was turned down on account of her “busy schedule.”
Park has made it clear she will not hold a summit with Abe until he takes steps to address South Korea’s historical grievances.