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Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano said Jan. 16 that it would be difficult for Japan to comply with a request by South Korea to suspend compensation payments to South Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.Yosano, at a regular news conference, was referring to a request by South Korea that Japan freeze the payment of consolation money through the private Asian Women’s Fund to former South Korean sex slaves. “I understand that the fund has started work for former military ‘comfort women’ in order to respond to their feelings as soon as possible, as they are already advanced in age,” Yosano said. “Considering the circumstances, the government cannot help but respect the fund’s position.”Yosano indicated that the issue of payments could possibly become a major subject during a summit between Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and South Korean President Kim Young Sam. The meeting is to be held Jan. 25 and 26 in Beppu, Oita Prefecture.On Jan. 15, South Korean Foreign Minister Yoo Chong Ha said during a meeting with Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda that Japan should not make such payments through a technically private fund, which was set up at the government’s initiative. Ikeda was in Seoul for the day to prepare for talks between Hashimoto and Kim.Ikeda turned down Yoo’s demand and proposed that the two governments discuss the issue of payments. Yoo told Ikeda that the payment “was extremely regrettable, and we want it withdrawn and suspended.” Following the meeting with Yoo, Ikeda met with President Kim at the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential office, where Kim also expressed his regret over the payments.The unusually strong tone of criticism by South Korean leaders was apparently voiced in consideration of the anger felt among local support groups for the women. The groups are demanding that the Japanese government pay official state compensation.

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