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NAGANO (Kyodo) A group of former Chinese laborers and relatives of laborers who have died filed an appeal Thursday against last week’s court ruling rejecting their demand for 140 million yen in damages from the government and four major general contractors for being forced to work under harsh conditions at a construction site in Nagano Prefecture during the war.

The plaintiffs — three former laborers and relatives of four others who have died — filed the appeal with the Tokyo High Court.

The Nagano District Court on March 10 dismissed the suit, saying the state cannot be held responsible for actions taken before the National Redress Law went into force in 1947, and that the plaintiffs’ right to demand compensation had expired because more than 20 years had elapsed since the events took place.

But presiding Judge Jiro Tsuji took the unusual step of offering a personal observation, saying, “Preceding generations did some terrible things, and I wish I could offer (the plaintiffs) some relief.”

The four contractors named as defendants in the suit are Kajima Corp., Kumagai Gumi Co., Taisei Corp. and Tobishima Corp.

The laborers were taken from China between May and July 1944 to hydroelectric plant construction sites in Nagano Prefecture and forced to do hard labor, including digging tunnels and carrying dirt, until Japan’s surrender in August 1945.

Japan brought over a large number of Chinese and Koreans to work in mines, ports and construction sites to make up for a wartime labor shortage. An estimated 40,000 Chinese were pressed-ganged into such labor.