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(LEAD) Japan's envoy requests meetings with key officials on comfort women deal

All News 19:54 April 05, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with S. Korean stance in paras 4-7)

SEOUL, April 5 (Yonhap) -- Japan's top envoy to South Korea has requested meetings with top government officials apparently to demand Seoul's implementation of a bilateral agreement on the wartime sex slavery issue, a diplomatic source said Wednesday.

Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine asked for the meetings with officials including Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, Defense Minister Han Min-koo and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo, according to the source.

The request was made right after the ambassador returned to Seoul on Tuesday night, nearly three months after he was recalled amid diplomatic friction over a girl statue symbolizing the victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery of Korean women.

After returning to Seoul, the envoy said, "I will push to meet Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn and other key government officials here to make a strong demand for the enforcement of the deal."

The South Korean government, however, has decided not to accept Nagamine's request for a while, government sources said, because it is not in sync with general diplomatic protocols or public sentiment here.

The Japanese ambassador is believed to have planned to make the demand about the girl statue with Hwang and discuss bilateral collaboration on North Korea with the unification and defense ministers.

Normally, a vice foreign minister or an assistant vice foreign minister are the counterparts of a Japanese ambassador in South Korea.

The statue was built in front of its consulate late last year in the southern port city of Busan.

Tokyo has demanded its immediate removal, saying that it runs counter to the spirit of the deal the two countries reached 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.

The South Korean government has urged an appropriate solution to the dispute but been reluctant to make a promise to get it removed or transferred to another place, saying that it is not in its purview to do so since the statue was built by civic groups.

Critics, meanwhile, demand the cancellation of the 2015 accord, saying that the Japanese government still refuses to recognize its legal responsibility. They also argue that the deal was reached without consulting the victims.

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 issue "once and for all."

South Korea is to hold an election in May to fill the top office left vacant by the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye. Major presidential candidates hinted at renegotiating or scrapping the deal.

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