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Some 600,000 Japanese are believed to have been interned in Siberia, Mongolia and Central Asia and used for forced labor after World War II. Some 60,000 of them are estimated to have died. Of the more than 460,000 who came back to Japan, 70,000 to 80,000 of them are believed to be still alive. Their average age is thought to be about 87.

Under international law, the government of a country to which prisoners of war belong must pay wages for their labor as POWs if they are issued labor certificates by a country that captured them as POWs. Compensation for those former POWs has been one of war-related issues Japan has to solve. On May 20, the Upper House Internal Affairs and Communications Committee unanimously passed a bill to give allowances to them and sent it to the Lower House the next day. But deliberations on it have stalled due to confusion in the Diet over a bill to establish a new Broadcast Law.

The Democratic Party of Japan first submitted a similar bill to the Diet in 2004. But after the party came to power, its enthusiasm cooled because of concern that such a bill could trigger other war-related compensation demands. Sources say that former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama instructed the DPJ to submit the current bill jointly with opposition forces to the Diet.

Under the bill, the former POWs are divided into five categories depending on the length of their internment — the longest being 11 years. If enacted, the bill will go into effect on the day it is promulgated. A one-time allowance ranging from ¥250,000 to ¥1.5 million will be paid to former POWs who are alive on that day. If they die later, their families can get the allowance. The bill only covers Japanese and does not cover people who were from Japan’s former colonies and were interned — an issue that requires future government action.

It is believed that every day, several former POWs die. Both the ruling and opposition parties must overcome their partisan interests and immediately enact the bill. Diet members should consider the length of time that has passed without necessary measures being taken for the former POWs.

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