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(U.S. House committee passes resolution demanding Japan's apology on comfort women

All Headlines 04:02 June 28, 2007

(ATTN: This article replaces story slugged "(LEAD) US House-comfort women" filed June 26. It amends last five paras to clarify that Rep. Manzullo voted yes on the resolution, Reps. Tancredo and Paul voted against)
By Lee Dong-min

WASHINGTON, June 27 (Yonhap) -- A U.S. House committee on Tuesday passed with overwhelming support a resolution condemning Japan's sexual enslavement of women during the past century.

Resolution 121 passed the Foreign Affairs Committee 39 to 2 after an hour and half of debate by legislators.

But the final text was toned down in part from the initial version that demanded an unequivocal apology by the Japanese prime minister.

Instead, the resolution says it "would help" resolve recurring questions about Tokyo's sincerity "if the prime minister of Japan were to make" a clear-cut apology.

It, however, retains demands that the government of Japan "formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner" for coercion of young women into sexual slavery.

Rep. Michael Honda, the author of the resolution, told reporters immediately after the passage that he is optimistic the resolution will go to the House floor around second week of July and be passed there as well.

Loud applause exploded in the audience as soon as the resolution passed. Former comfort women and Korean-American activists who spent years advocating their cause were seated throughout the audience, watching the debate.

By Tuesday, 149 congressmen co-sponsored the resolution, well over the 120 asked for by committee leaders before marking it up for a vote.

This is the second time that the House committee endorsed the resolution on comfort women, a euphemistic term for tens of thousands of young girls, mostly Korean, who were forced into prostitution to serve Japanese soldiers before and during World War II. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule at the time.

The House body, previously called the International Relations Committee, passed a similar resolution in September last year. Resolution 121 was endorsed again by the new Congress, controlled by Democrats.

Earlier resolutions, proposed in 2001 and 2005, expired even before reaching a committee vote.

Committee chairman Tom Lantos said Tokyo's refusal to officially apologize to the comfort women was "disturbing."

"Post-war Germany made the right choice. Japan, on the other hand, has actively promoted historical amnesia," he said.

Amnesty International applauded Tuesday's results.

"Amnesty International urges nations across the world to follow the U.S. Congress's lead and put pressure on the Japanese government to ensure that survivors receive full reparation, including restitution, compensation and rehabilitation," it said in a statement.

A coalition of Korean-American groups put out a joint statement saying the victims will now "be able to restore their dignity."

"We are convinced that in the near future, the House of Representatives will also pass the resolution."

Honda, a Californian Democrat, submitted the resolution in January. His role drew public attention because he is of Japanese ancestry. His family was a victim of internment during World War II, an experience he said propelled him to seek Japan's apology for comfort women just as the U.S. did for the internment.

The final text was amended in an agreement between Lantos and ranking member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to add two paragraphs emphasizing the U.S.-Japan alliance.

The alliance is the "cornerstone" of U.S. security in Asia and the Pacific, the amendment said.

The two countries continue to cooperate on "shared vital interests and values... including the preservation and promotion of political and economic freedoms, support for human rights and democratic institutions," it said.

Lantos said the Congress does not seek to hold Japan in "perpetual punishment."

"We want a full reckoning of history to help everyone heal, and then move on," he said.

Rep. Donald Manzullo, a Illinois Republican, voted in favor of the resolution but questioned whether the committee "has the wisdom" to judge another country.

"We are being asked to vote on the quality of acknowledgement and the quality of the apology as argued between two great allies," he said.

Lantos quickly rebutted, saying, "We are not dealing with inter-country disputes. We are dealing the fundamental issue of human rights."

Two Republican congressmen, Reps. Ron Paul and Thomas Tancredo, were the two legislators who voted nay.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher voted in favor, but asked that the committee also consider a separate resolution lauding the importance of U.S.-Japan relations.


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