• Reuters


South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday met with nine women who were forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels, days after their plight again cast a shadow over relations with Japan.

A South Korean panel set up to investigate a 2015 agreement with Japan on the thousands of girls and women forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during World War II, euphemistically termed “comfort women” by Japan, has said the deal failed to meet their needs.

Moon said the 2015 deal, under which Japan apologized to victims and provided ¥1 billion ($8.8 million) to a fund to help them, was seriously flawed. Japan has said any attempt to revise it could damage relations.

Eight of the women met Moon for lunch at the presidential compound, known as the Blue House, in Seoul, the president’s office said in a statement.

“We told you the previous government’s agreement was wrong and this issue hasn’t been resolved,” Moon said to one of the women before the lunch. “It’s still not an easy situation to handle within our bilateral relationship.”

Moon wanted to gauge the women’s reaction to his government’s position on the deal, the Blue House said. Moon visited one of the women, Kim Bok-dong, separately in the morning as she was ill and unable to attend the lunch.

“We survived when bullets were raining down and we’ll be able to get through this,” Kim told Moon, the Blue House said.

The women want Japan to take legal, binding responsibility for its actions. Kim was scornful of the 2015 payout. “The money should be sent back to Japan,” she said.

As of December at least 32 of the women are still alive, according to a South Korean civic group set up to safeguard their rights.

It was the second time that former comfort women have visited the Blue House during Moon’s presidency, after one of them was invited to a dinner when U.S. President Donald Trump visited in November.

Moon’s announcement on the 2015 deal last week raised consternation in Japan, where media reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may decide not to visit South Korea for the Winter Olympics there next month.

The South Korean foreign ministry said Thursday it will seek final measures on the issue as quickly as possible, while one ministry official said the measures could be finalized as soon as next week. This latest strain in ties comes as the U.S. allies are trying to cooperate on security in the face of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

But their bitter history, including Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula and the issue of the women, has regularly been a source of rancor between them.

Moon came to power in May after the removal of his disgraced predecessor, Park Geun-hye, whose conservative government was criticized for failing to fully consult victims over the 2015 settlement.

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