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A message from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was read out at a ceremony in April memorializing Japanese war criminals, who had, he wrote, “dedicated their souls to become the foundation of our homeland,” an organizer of the event has said.

The message was first reported on by the daily Asahi Shimbun on Wednesday.

It was read out at an annual memorial ceremony, at a temple in Koya, Wakayama Prefecture, Masayoshi Onodera told The Japan Times.

Onodera, 83, is vice chairman of Kinki Kaiko Kai, a group made up of former Imperial Japanese soldiers and retired Self-Defense Forces personnel which helped organize the April event.

The ceremony honors about 1,180 former Imperial Japanese soldiers and officers, most of whom were executed as war criminals, in addition to 12 government leaders in Class A, notably wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.

Ceremony organizers have described the postwar International Military Tribunal for the Far East, better known as the Tokyo Trials, as “revenge” by the Allied Powers, and consider the war criminals “martyrs.”

Abe’s message is out of step with the government’s official position of accepting the judgments of the postwar tribunal.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to elaborate on the matter at a news conference on Wednesday, saying Abe sent the message “in his private capacity,” not as the prime minister.

However, Suga admitted that Abe used his title as president of the Liberal Democratic Party, the ruling party in the Diet, in sending the message.

Suga also noted that Tokyo accepted the rulings of the postwar tribunal when it signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, apparently to stress that the government’s official view has not changed in spite of Abe’s message.

Abe often tries to tread a fine line when dealing with sensitive historical issues.

When he visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine last December, he likewise argued it was in his capacity as a private citizen, apparently disregarding the diplomatic fallout that was certain to follow from China, South Korea and the United States, which all regard the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

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