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Japan was open to compensation for Korean forced laborers despite treaty: document

All Headlines 10:55 March 14, 2010

TOKYO, March 14 (Yonhap) -- Japan believed in the 1960s that Korean victims of forced labor during its brutal colonization of the Korean Peninsula were eligible to receive individual compensation despite a government-level deal on the matter, according to an internal document at Tokyo's foreign ministry.

Japan's position as revealed in the 1965 dossier, part of which was recently declassified and obtained by Yonhap News Agency, may affect a number of ongoing and upcoming lawsuits by those victims and their families against the Japanese government, legal experts said.

Japanese authorities have maintained an official stance that the issue of compensation was settled through a 1965 treaty with South Korea that normalized diplomatic relations.

Under the pact, South Korea received a total of US$800 million in grants and soft loans from Japan as compensation for its 1910-45 colonial rule, during which more than one million Koreans were conscripted into the workforce and the military, or were forced into sexual enslavement at frontline brothels.

At the time of the signing of the treaty, however, Japan's foreign ministry understood the pact as only covering government-level compensation, unrelated to the claims of individuals, according to the document.

The pact is not "about whether individuals have the right to demand compensation," it said.

Choi Bong-tae, a lawyer for Korean victims, said: "This document shows the Japanese government's thoughts when the South Korea-Japan pact was established. Japan should make public all diplomatic documents on negotiations for the (1965) Treaty of Basic Relations between South Korea and Japan."

Japan's position on the issue has again drawn public attention as the neighboring nations seek to improve their often-prickly relations this year on the centennial of Japan's colonization of Korea.

In the latest court ruling related with the matter, an appeals court in Japan rejected a demand last week that the Japanese government and a machinery maker pay compensation to Korean women forced to work at a military plant in Japan during World War II.

The Nagoya High Court turned down an appeal by a group of 23 South Korean former forced laborers and their relatives, who called for about 100 million yen (US$1.1 million) in compensation from the government and Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp., based in Toyama.

Judges acknowledged that the women were forcefully brought to Japan and ordered to work, but they said the plaintiffs lost their right to demand compensation under the 1965 compensation rights treaty between the two countries. The plaintiffs have said they will appeal to a higher court.

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