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(3rd LD) S. Korea launches team to review comfort women deal with Japan

All Headlines 16:24 July 31, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in 3rd para, last 4 paras; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, July 31 (Yonhap) -- South Korea officially launched a task force to review an agreement with Japan reached in 2015 to settle a long-standing bilateral feud over Japan's imperial-era mobilization of Korean women as sex workers, the foreign ministry said Monday.

The TF is tasked with fact-finding and assessing the processes leading up to the signing of the so-called comfort women deal, as well as its terms, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

(3rd LD) S. Korea launches team to review comfort women deal with Japan - 1

The launch of the special team marks the first step to fulfill President Moon Jae-in's campaign promise to revisit the bilateral agreement, which has been widely criticized for lacking Japan's official apology and a pledge of liability for its forced sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.

The previous administration of impeached President Park Geun-hye signed the agreement with Japan on Dec. 28, 2015 to end bilateral feuds stemming from the history of Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula once and for all. Under the deal, Japan injected 1 billion yen (US$9 million) to a South Korean foundation dedicated to supporting victims.

Up to 200,000 Asian women, mostly from Korea, were believed to have been forced into sexual servitude for the imperialist Japanese troops during World War II as comfort women during the world war.

Several of the dozens of living South Korean comfort women victims refused financial compensation from the foundation in defiance of the bilateral deal which was forged without their consent and called for the removal of a symbolic comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told the nine-member team to thoroughly vet the agreement from the perspective of the comfort women victims, according to the ministry.

The TF plans to make the result of its assessment public by the end of this year, the ministry said. Upon the result, the Moon administration is expected to make a final decision whether to retain or opt out of the deal.

The team is headed by Oh Tai-kyu, formerly a progressive journalist who advised Moon on social issues while on the president's transition team, and staffed with eight other experts on diplomacy, human rights and international law, as well as ministry officials.

They held their inaugural session earlier in the day where future plans and directions of the TF were discussed, the foreign ministry said.

For its part, Japan has repeatedly called on Seoul to stay with the agreement, urging faithful implementation of it.

Oh Tai-kyu, the chairman of a special team tasked with reviewing South Korea's comfort women deal with Japan, briefs journalists on the launch of the nine-member team on July 31, 2017. (Yonhap)

In a press briefing, Chairman Oh said the focus of the team's examination would include diplomatic dossiers on the agreement, current or former officials involved in the deal as well as the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation launched to implement the deal.

"Since the comfort women deal is a complex issue also touching on human rights and international law, whether the deal has any problem in terms of international law will also be part of the review," Oh said.

"In handling human rights issues, a victims-specific approach is common sense in terms of international law, but in the case of the (comfort women) deal, victims are resisting," Oh also noted. "Why they are defying the deal and whether their input has been sufficiently taken into account should therefore need to be studied."

He, however, turned down the possibility that the review process would weigh on South Korea-Japan relations, saying that "the foreign minister and the president have indicated that the South Korea-Japan relationship should go smoothly regardless of the comfort women issue."


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