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(2nd LD) Japanese envoy recalled home over statue dispute to return to Seoul: official

All Headlines 15:59 April 03, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS more info from 4th para)

SEOUL, April 3 (Yonhap) -- Japan's top envoy to South Korea, who was recalled to Tokyo amid diplomatic friction over a girl statue symbolizing the victims of its wartime sexual slavery, will return to Seoul this week, a foreign ministry official here said Monday.

The Japanese government recalled its Ambassador to South Korea Yasumasa Nagamine in January in protest over the statue that civic groups erected in front of its consulate in the southern port city of Busan.

"We are aware that the Japanese government has decided to send Ambassador Nagamine here tomorrow," the ministry official said on condition of anonymity. "We hope that his return to work will serve as a chance for both countries to better and more closely communicate with each other."

In this file photo, Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Yasumasa Nagamine arrives in Tokyo on Jan. 9, 2017. (Yonhap)

Nagamine is expected to come back to Seoul, along with Japanese Consul General in Busan Yasuhiro Morimoto, who was also recalled over the statue dispute.

It was not immediately known when South Korea was notified of his return. A Japanese Embassy official was not reached for comments and more information.

His return comes amid worries that a prolonged vacancy over the absence of the top Japanese envoy could hamper diplomatic communication between the two neighbors.

The two diplomats were called in to their home country on Jan. 9 as Japan strongly protested the installation of the girl statue in Busan.

Tokyo claimed that the statue built before its consulate, along with another one standing in front of its embassy in Seoul, runs counter to a landmark deal reached between the two countries in late 2015 to resolve the long-running rift over Japan's atrocity of forcing Korean women into front-line brothels during World War II.

Under the deal on Dec. 28, 2015, Tokyo apologized and agreed to provide 1 billion yen (US$8.9 million) for the creation of a foundation aimed at helping the victims, euphemistically called comfort women. They also agreed to resolve the rift over the wartime atrocity "once and for all."

The South Korean government has called for a appropriate solution to the dispute over the statue but veered off from making a promise to get it removed or moved to another place, saying that it is not in its purview to do so since the statue was built by civic groups.

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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