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(2nd LD) Korean expats in Japan request Seoul's removal of girl statue before Japan's consulate

All Headlines 21:09 February 06, 2017

(ATTN: RECASTS headline; UPDATES throughout)

SEOUL, Feb. 6 (Yonhap) -- The head of a group representing the rights of Korean residents in Japan on Monday formally requested South Korea remove a girl statue symbolizing wartime sexual slaves that was recently erected before Japan's consulate here, driving a wedge between the neighbors.

O Gong-tae, chief of the Korean Residents Union, also known as Mindan, conveyed an official letter requesting the removal to Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se during their talks held earlier in the day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

"The Korean expat community in Japan is experiencing a lot of difficulties as Japan's public opinion about South Korea soured badly after the erection of the girl statue in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan last year," the ministry quoted O as saying.

The foreign minister responded that he takes the request "gravely" and reiterated the government's official stance, the ministry said, referring to Seoul's repeated reservations about the civic group-established bronze sculpture.

Yun also vowed efforts to develop South Korea-Japan relations "tirelessly," the ministry said.

The request by the Korean diaspora in Japan came as bilateral relations became icy over the girl statue before Japan's consulate in Busan, which symbolizes Korean women sexually enslaved by the imperialist Japanese Army during Japan's colonial control of South Korea from 1910-45.

It was the second such statue erected by South Korean civic activists in front of a Japanese diplomatic mission following the other one in front of the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul.

In December 2015, Seoul and Tokyo signed a landmark deal to end their decades-old diplomatic row over the wartime atrocity, but the fence-mending efforts hit a snag as the countries failed to reach an agreement on the fate of the statues. South Korea has long said the government has no authority to remove the statues set up by civic activists.

In protest, Japan recalled its ambassador to Seoul in mid-January.

(2nd LD) Korean expats in Japan request Seoul's removal of girl statue before Japan's consulate - 1

Before his meeting with the foreign minister, O told reporters that he hopes for easing the ongoing diplomatic friction between the two neighbors by removing the girl statue in the southern port city of Busan.

"I would be happy if that happens," O told reporters when asked whether he wants the girl statue to be relocated.

Asked whether the statue issue serves as a major factor in hurting Japan-South Korea relations, he said, "I think so."

O's remarks are in line with what he said in his New Year address. He emphasized that all the Korean residents living in Japan "share" the hope that the statue will be removed.

He and other representatives of Mindan were in Seoul to meet with Yun. The meeting was arranged at the union to deliver the "voices" of Koreans living in Japan.

Mindan is a pro-Seoul organization which was established in 1946, a year after Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule, to protect the rights and interests of Koreans living in Japan.

O said that the worsening ties between Japan and South Korea is making it hard for Korean compatriots to live in Japan and go about their business.

In welcoming the Mindan chief ahead of the meeting, Yun promised to make necessary efforts to improve bilateral relations, while asking the union to continue to serve as a "bridge" between the two countries.

kokobj@yna.co.kr

pbr@yna.co.kr
(END)

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