SEOUL – A monument to South Korean females forced into sexual slavery during the war was set up in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday despite protests by Tokyo.
The so-called Peace Monument was unveiled on the occasion of the 1,000th weekly demonstration by the now-elderly women and their supporters calling for an apology and compensation from the Japanese government.
The protest rally has been held outside the mission every Wednesday since 1992, organized by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, a group of former sex slaves euphemistically called “comfort women.”
The monument, which consists of a statue of a teenage Korean girl in traditional costume and was reportedly erected with about $32,000 worth of donations, will become a permanent protest site.
Five former South Korean comfort women and several hundred supporters attended the rally, with riot police standing guard around the protest site.
“A thick wall stood in the way of holding 1,000 rallies. But the wall is being cracked little by little. Shouting across the nation and from all over the world will bring the Japanese government to kneel before our ‘halmoni’ (grandmothers),” said Yoon Mee Hyang, head of the council.
“We will continue to go on our way and the 1,001th rally will be held next Wednesday,” Yoon added.
A participant of the rally held a sign that read, “The Japanese government should make an official apology and full compensation” while other sign read, “There is no peaceful future for Japan which has forgotten the past.”
A total of 234 South Koreans have registered with the South Korean government as former comfort women.
There are currently only 63 surviving victims as most are in their 80s and 90s.
Tokyo had asked Seoul to block the monument’s placement outside the embassy, but the request was refused.
“We have conveyed Japan’s concerns to the council. However, a former ‘comfort woman’ victim passed away even today, leaving only 63 survivors. In this situation, we in the Foreign Ministry are not in a position to tell the victims to change or scrap the plan to erect the monument,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung Jae told a news briefing Tuesday.
In 1993, Yohei Kono, as chief Cabinet secretary, issued a statement acknowledging the state played a role in the wartime brothel program and offering an apology.
But Japan has refused to pay individual compensation for wrongs committed during its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, including issues that emerged later, such as that of the sex slaves, claiming the 1965 South Korea-Japan treaty that normalized bilateral relations exempts it from that responsibility, including individual redress claims.
According to historians, up to 200,000 females, mostly Koreans, were forced into sexual slavery at frontline Japanese brothels during the war.
Remove statue: Japan
Japan plans to call on South Korea to remove a monument symbolizing Korean “comfort women” that was set up in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul by a civic group, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Wednesday.
Tokyo had asked Seoul to stop the group from erecting the monument, but the South Korean government refused. Now, concerns are growing that the matter may become a new irritant in relations just ahead of this weekend’s planned visit by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to Japan.
“We’re going to ask” South Korea to remove the monument, which depicts a girl seated next to an empty chair, Fujimura said at a news conference.
“Comfort women” is the euphemism Japan used to describe females forced into sexual slavery for the Imperial armed forces during the war.
Fujimura described the move by the group to establish the monument as “very regrettable.”
Still, Fujimura said Lee’s visit from Saturday will go on as planned but he didn’t say if Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda would touch on the comfort women issue at their meeting.
Meanwhile, a civic group formed a human chain Wednesday around the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo to seek early settlement of the issue of forced sexual slavery during the war in concert with the 1,000th weekly protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
Shizue Kongo, 68, who took part in the protest in Tokyo, said, “Halmoni (grandmothers) are old and some are passing away. We want the government to hurry up and find a solution.”