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A 70-year-old Chinese man demanded in court Friday that Japanese corporations and the government admit wrongdoing and pay redress for labor he claims he and 41 others were forced to perform in coal mines and elsewhere in Japan during World War II.

Ly Wanzhong made his first appearance before the Tokyo District Court on Friday as one of 42 Chinese plaintiffs in a group lawsuit. The plaintiffs are seeking 840 million yen in unpaid wages and damages for physical and mental suffering they suffered as forced laborers for Japanese companies from April 1944 to August 1945.

They are also demanding an official apology from 11 defendants — the Japanese government and 10 corporations. The defendants include major construction firms such as Hazama Corp. and Mitsubishi Materials Corp.

Ly claims he was abducted by Japanese soldiers from his village in Hebei Province in around March 1942 and taken to a detention center, where he was forced to do railroad repair and other work. In April 1944, he was taken to Japan to work at construction sites along the Tone River in Gunma Prefecture under harsh conditions, he said.

Ly added that there is not much time left, as the more than 38,000 victims of forced labor are old and gradually dying. “It is the common wish of Chinese forced laborers and their families to solve this problem as soon as possible,” he told the court. “(But) even if all the laborers die of illness several years down the road, their families will seek redress from Japan forever.”

All of the defendants have withheld their plea, saying that records on wartime practices do not exist. The government, as well as Ube Industries, Mitsubishi Materials and Dowa Mining Co., have also maintained that the case should be dismissed because the statute of limitations has expired, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.

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