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(LEAD) Top U.N. official embraces 'comfort women'

All Headlines 12:00 June 24, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES with comments in paras 3-6)

SEOUL, June 24 (Yonhap) -- A top United Nations official on human rights met Wednesday with three South Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops during World War II.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein visited a shelter for the victims, euphemistically dubbed "comfort women," in western Seoul.

He said his organization will "continue to advocate on their behalf."

"I will of course stay in touch with them and visit them again as often as I can," he said.

The symbolic gesture came as South Korea and Japan are struggling to strike a deal on the matter. Seoul calls for an apology and compensation for the victims. Tokyo argues its legal responsibility was settled in a 1965 treaty to normalize bilateral diplomatic relations.

"We are talking to the authorities in both countries," he added.

Zeid's move is expected to further enhance international attention on the issue and help put pressure on Japan.

He was warmly greeted by the three elderly women -- Kim Bok-dong, Gil Won-ok, and Lee Yong-soo -- at the War and Women's Human Rights Museum run by civic group the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.

They are among 50 surviving South Korean victims of Japan's wartime operation of so-called comfort stations. More than 200,000 women from Korea, China and other Asian nations were coerced into sexual servitude, according to historians.

The U.N. official hugged each of them upon his arrival at the museum.

The women thanked Zeid for coming and gave him a butterfly pin, which symbolizes the plight and hope of the comfort women, before having a closed-door meeting.

Zeid flew here Tuesday for a three-day stay to attend the opening ceremony for a new U.N. office in Seoul to work on the human rights situation in North Korea.

He plans to deliver a speech at Yonsei University titled "Korea in the human rights world" later Wednesday.

lcd@yna.co.kr
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