A group of former South Korean soldiers and civilian workers of the Imperial Japanese Army, forced into laborer by the Soviet Union for years after World War II, sued the government Thursday for 300 million yen in unpaid wages and compensation.

In the suit, filed with the Tokyo District Court, 30 former internees and a relative of a deceased prisoner are seeking around 10 million yen each in compensation for forced labor in Siberia and other locations.

About 3,500 Koreans, who were treated as Japanese nationals during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, were among some 6 million Japanese soldiers and workers taken to Siberia by Soviet troops, according to the plaintiffs.

It is the first lawsuit filed by Koreans seeking compensation for slave labor in Siberia.

The plaintiffs, now South Korean nationals, claim that Soviet troops captured them in Manchuria, Sakhalin and other places during the final days of World War II and took them to detention camps in Siberia and other locations.

They performed hard labor in harsh conditions for two to four years after Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, they said.

In demanding the compensation, the plaintiffs referred to the 1949 Geneva Treaty, which stipulates that it is the responsibility of one’s own country to compensate for war-related forced labor in an enemy state when that country refuses to do so.

A similar suit was filed by Japanese internees in the former Soviet Union but was rejected in 1997 by the Supreme Court, which said that no domestic law allowed for such compensation.

The suit filed Thursday was joined by another 133 relatives of Korean soldiers and civilian workers suing over the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.

The plaintiffs are demanding that their family members be removed from the list of people honored at the Tokyo shrine, and that the Japanese government locate and return their remains. They are demanding about 1.4 billion yen in compensation as well.

After filing the suit, Lee Byung Joo, 78, head of the Korean Group of Former Internees in Siberia, told reporters that the unpaid wages represent years of blood, sweat and anger in a hellish environment in Siberia.

“We barely escaped death in hell by working hard with fellow Japanese (internees),” he said. “But we were both abandoned by the Japanese government, which has ignored its responsibility (for our hardship).”

During a news conference, the vice head of a Japanese group of detainees in Siberia said the two groups have agreed to set up a joint council and fund to pressure the government to compensate all of the former internees in the Soviet Union.

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