• Kyodo

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In an apparent reversal, Japan plans to provide the ¥1 billion deposit to South Korea required under the landmark “comfort women” pact without waiting for a controversial statue to be removed from near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, according to sources.

The only question is when.

At the time of the Dec. 28 agreement, neither government said that removal of the statue of a girl symbolizing the Korean women forced into Japan’s military brothels during the war was a condition for Tokyo’s contribution to a fund South Korea will establish for the victims.

The money is most likely to be released next month, they said.

Given the development, the South Korean government will establish on Thursday a foundation dedicated to supporting the surviving comfort women, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Wednesday.

Japan is more keen to cement stronger ties with its neighbor in light of North Korea’s security threats, the sources said.

When to disburse the money is still being discussed between Shotaro Yachi, national security adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and South Korean officials. The South Korean Foreign Ministry on Tuesday expressed hope the money will be released immediately after the fund’s launch.

Marking a major turnaround in bilateral ties, Japan and South Korea agreed last December to resolve the comfort women issue “finally and irreversibly,” with the terms of the deal including the ¥1 billion pledge to the fund and an apology from Abe.

At the time of the Dec. 28 agreement, the removal of the statue was not mentioned by either party as a condition for Tokyo’s contribution. In the formal agreement, South Korea only states that it “acknowledges” Japan’s concern about the statue and “will strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner.”

Japan has called for the removal of the bronze statue of a young woman clad in traditional Korean costume ever since it was erected by a South Korean citizens’ group in December 2011. The group insists it will not remove the statue.

One of the sources suggested making the statue’s removal a condition for releasing the money, saying that while South Korea said in the December accord it would make efforts to resolve the issue, it did not promise its removal.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a news conference Tuesday it is important for Japan and South Korea to “each take responsibility in implementing the agreement.”

Fearing public opposition, Japan initially said the release of its contribution is contingent on the statue’s removal but the sources said it is now inclined to swiftly release the money to bolster cooperation with South Korea following North Korea’s nuclear test in January and subsequent test-firing of banned ballistic missiles.

Some members of Japan’s ruling bloc and conservative lawmakers, however, remain adamant and continue to call for the statue to be removed soon.

Meanwhile, the South Korean foundation will implement projects aimed at restoring the honor and dignity of former sex slaves and healing their emotional wounds. It will be officially inaugurated at a meeting of its board of directors in Seoul on Thursday, the official said.

Kim Tae Hyun, an honorary professor at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul who led a preparatory committee for establishing the organization, is expected to head the new fund.

The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

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