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(2nd LD) S. Korea to give funds provided by Japan to sexually enslaved victims

All Headlines 18:24 August 25, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS more info from 8th para)
By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has decided to use Japan's comfort women fund to financially assist Korean women who were sexually enslaved by Japanese troops during its colonial-era rule of the Korean Peninsula decades ago, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

The government will provide 100 million won (US$89,581) to surviving victims who were forced to serve in military brothels and 20 million to family members of victims who have already passed away, according to the ministry.

The money will be made available once Tokyo transfers 1 billion yen (US$9.96 million) it has committed to provide in the landmark deal to settle the long-running diplomatic feud in December.

"The cash provision is intended to restore the honor and dignity of the comfort women victims and to heal their wounds," the ministry said.

The exact amount of the money to be granted to each victim or bereaved family could vary depending on individual needs, a ministry official said. It will be granted mostly over a certain period of time but can be given in a lump sum if necessary.

Eligible for the money are the 46 surviving victims and the families of the 199 comfort women who were already deceased when the deal was reached late last year. Six of the survivors have died since. All were officially registered victims of sexual slavery.

The remainder of the money, estimated at around 2 billion won, will be set aside for projects to help all victims, the ministry said. The 1 billion yen promised by Japan is expected to be transferred to the foundation within this month, observers said.

"The projects for all victims will be determined by the foundation based on what each government thinks is appropriate and in line with what was agreed upon in the Dec. 28 agreement inked by the two countries," the ministry said.

A ministry official said that it is "quite meaningful" in that all the money will be granted in cash to individual victims, not with other forms of support, and that it did not limit where the money could be used but made it available for anything deemed to be helpful in achieving the cause of the foundation.

The controversy over the nature of the money remains unsettled. Japan has claimed that the money is not for reparations but for support for the victims in an apparent bid to stay away from any legal responsibility.

On yet another controversy over Tokyo's calls for the removal of a comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese embassy in central Seoul, the official said that now is not the time to discuss the issue, a point that Japan also accepted.

The comfort women issue is one of the most brittle diplomatic bones of contention between the two neighbors. In reaching the December deal, both had wanted to put an end to the matter once and for all.

Discontent, however, remains over what critics see as a hastily-arranged agreement that lacked a sufficient process to gather opinions from victims and the general public. Suspicion is also lingering over Japan's sincerity in its apology.

"Going forward, the foundation will work to figure out the needs of individual victims and come up with detailed business plans tailored to their demand and in a way that would maximize business performance," the official said.

Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese troops during World War II. The forty surviving South Korean victims are mostly in their late 80s.

kokobj@yna.co.kr

pbr@yna.co.kr
(END)

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