SEOUL – The first leader of a foundation set up by the South Korean government to support former “comfort women” with Japanese funding announced her resignation last week at a board meeting, sources familiar with the matter said Sunday.
Comfort women is Japan’s euphemism for the girls and women forced to work in its military brothels before and during World War II.
The resignation of Kim Tae-hyeon comes as the liberal administration of President Moon Jae-in, who took office in May, looks to review the 2015 agreement.
“I did what I had to do,” Kim, a professor emeritus at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul, said at the board meeting Wednesday. The executive directors of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation are expected to stay on.
Gender Equality and Family Minister Chung Hyun-back, whose portfolio covers issues involving the comfort women, recently said the foundation would be subject to a complete review.
Last week, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said that seeking a renegotiation of the bilateral agreement “is an option” that will be discussed by a task force she intends to set up.
Under the agreement, which Japan and South Korea signed in December 2015, the two countries were to resolve the issue “finally and irreversibly” by fulfilling a set of terms they drafted.
As the main term, Japan deposited ¥1 billion ($8.7 million) into a foundation that South Korea set up last July to care for the surviving victims and their families. Of the 47 women who were alive when the agreement was signed, 36, or their families, received or signaled that they intend to receive the funds.
The issue received renewed attention Sunday after former comfort woman Kim Kun-ja died of old age, bringing the number of known Korean survivors to 37, according to local media.
Kim died aged 91 at the House of Sharing, a group home for the survivors on the outskirts of Seoul, the reports said. She had criticized the 2015 agreement, which did not have unanimous support from the survivors, for failing to reflect the voices of the women.
In a Facebook post, Moon wrote that Kim “was abducted at age 16 and forcibly sent to a wartime brothel in China, where she suffered terribly.” He sent flowers to the hospital where her body was kept.
According to the House of Sharing, Kim began living at the facility in 1998. In 2007, she testified at a U.S. congressional hearing.