A government panel unveiled Friday its much-anticipated report on the 1992-1993 diplomatic negotiations between Seoul and Tokyo over the “comfort women” wartime brothel system. The report describes a political tug of war over the wording used in an apology statement that was issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993.

In drafting its report, the five-member panel inspected confidential government records. It said Seoul repeatedly demanded that Tokyo admit it forced Korean women to work at “comfort stations” — and said South Korea would not demand any financial compensation for the women.

Although the panel’s report lacks a clear conclusion, it apparently suggests that Seoul and Tokyo wrestled with the text through extensive political to and fro rather than by investigating the historical record of what critics call Japan’s sexual slavery.

At a news conference on Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would uphold the Kono statement regardless of what the report had found.

“We’d like to leave intellectuals to handle questions of history, including those about the ‘comfort women,’ ” Suga said.

“There is no change at all in our position to uphold the Kono statement. We feel heartache when we think of (women) who suffered from indescribable experiences,” Suga said.

Abe’s Cabinet launched the panel in April after pressure from conservative lawmakers who insisted Japan did not force thousands of women to work in brothels against their will.

Suga and Abe have repeatedly stressed the government will neither revise nor replace the Kono statement, regardless of what the panel concluded.

The panel’s launch itself drew international attention because Abe had earlier suggested he wanted to revise the Kono statement. He repeatedly denied that intention, however, after winning a second term as prime minister in December 2012.

The panel’s report says the Korean side proposed that Kono admit “comfort women” were recruited by “the Japanese military and businesses who received instructions from the military.” The Japanese side maintained there are no historical materials that show the military itself directly recruited the women.

The Japanese side proposed that it admit the comfort stations were set up by private-sector businesses based on the “intention” of the Japanese military authority, while the South Korean side demanded that the word “instruction” be used instead. The word “request” was eventually adopted.

The final version of the Kono statement reads: “The then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women.

The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The Government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments.”

During political negotiations prior to the announcement of the Kono statement, the Korean side told Tokyo that “it has a policy not to seek financial compensation,” according to the panel’s report.

The panel was headed by former prosecutor-general Keiichi Tadaki. The other four members included Hiroko Akizuki, professor of international law at Asia University in Tokyo, and noted historian Ikuhiko Hata.

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