SEOUL – The South Korean government lodged a protest with Japan on Saturday over Japanese media reports that say Seoul is considering relocating a statue of a girl symbolizing the “comfort women” that was installed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry summoned a senior official of the Japanese Embassy and explained that it is not for the South Korean government to say what to do about the statue because it was put up by a civic group, according to a ministry official.
Some Japanese media organizations have reported, citing unnamed South Korean government sources, that South Korea would consider relocating the statue if Tokyo offers conditions acceptable to Seoul in talks to settle the long-standing dispute.
The development came as South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida were set to discuss what Japan euphemistically calls the ianfu, the thousands of girls and women who were recruited, lured or deceived into wartime brothels set up by the Imperial Japanese military. The ministers are to meet Monday in Seoul.
A ministry spokesman expressed displeasure over the “groundless” Japanese media reports and said it is doubtful whether Japan is prepared to come to the talks in good faith.
The South Korean civic group that erected the statue denounced any possible moves to move it, Yonhap News Agency reported.
“The girl statue has become something like common property which our group cannot do anything about,” Yoon Mee-hyang, co-representative of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, was quoted as saying Saturday.
“Therefore it’s impossible to bring it down or relocate,” she said, adding that if the Japanese government sincerely wishes to resolve the issue, its ambassador to South Korea should come to the statue to commemorate the comfort women.
The group put up the bronze statue in December 2011, on the occasion of its 1,000th day protesting in front of the embassy. The protests have been held every Wednesday since 1992.
It demands that the Japanese government offer an official, irreversible apology and compensation to Korean former comfort women.
A facility near Seoul that provides support to former comfort women pointed out that even if the Japanese and South Korean governments were to agree on moving the statue, it would not happen unless all 46 surviving Korean comfort women give their consent, Yonhap reported.