SEOUL – Authorities in South Korea’s port city of Busan on Friday removed a controversial statue that was erected near the Japanese Consulate by a civic group to symbolize Korean laborers who were forcibly taken to Japan during its colonial rule.
Dozens of labor union activists had earlier this year tried to install the bronze statue of an emaciated man in front of the consulate itself, beside an existing statue dedicated to wartime “comfort women,” but were prevented from doing so by police.
Police and consulate officials said the wartime labor statue was forcibly removed Friday from a sidewalk in front of a nearby park.
The labor union activists and the government of the Dong-gu district, in which the consulate and park are located, had earlier agreed the statue could be temporarily erected in the park. But that idea was subsequently opposed by the municipal government on the grounds that the park is contiguous to the consulate. It suggested they consider another site.
Tokyo and Seoul have been clashing over compensation issues related to wartime labor, while the issue of the comfort women remains unresolved despite a 2015 bilateral pact designed to settle it once and for all. Comfort women refers to those who worked in wartime brothels, including those who did so against their will, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers
Japan has urged South Korea not to allow the installation of such statues, saying Seoul is obligated under the Vienna Convention to prevent any disturbance of the peace at a diplomatic mission or the impairment of its dignity.
The comfort women statue in front of the consulate was installed by a different civic group in 2016 and led Japan to temporarily recall its ambassador in protest. A similar statue also exists near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.