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(LEAD) Moon says forced labor rulings mean no termination of individual rights for damages claims

Politics 16:53 December 14, 2018

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SEOUL, Dec. 14 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in said Friday that South Korea's landmark court rulings against Japan's wartime forced labor mean individual rights to damage claims are not terminated under a pact between the two countries.

"The court ruling does not deny the (1965) pact between South Korea and Japan on normalizing diplomatic ties," Moon said in a meeting with a delegation of Japanese lawmakers led by Fukushiro Nukaga.

"The ruling indicates that the treaty is valid, but it does not terminate an individual's right to claim damages against Japanese firms (over forced labor)," he added.

In late October, the top court ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate four South Koreans for wartime forced labor and unpaid work. One month later, the court handed down similar rulings against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to pay compensation to ten former forced laborers.

Japan reacted angrily to the decisions, claiming that all reparation issues linked to its 1910-45 colonial rule were settled in the 1965 state-to-state pact on normalizing diplomatic relations.

"They were the judicial branch's rulings. Like Japan, as South Korea guarantees the separation of legal, administrative, and judicial powers, the government needs to respect the court decisions," Moon was quoted as saying by deputy presidential spokesperson Ko Min-jung.

The president also called for prudence in handling the issue in a way that does not hurt the sentiment of people of both nations.

"Hurting the sentiments of people in both countries does not help the future development of Seoul-Tokyo ties," Moon stressed.

Meanwhile, Moon proposed that Seoul and Japan find ways to utilize the 1 billion yen (US$9 million) of Japanese funding for a foundation to support Korean victims of Japan's wartime sex slavery now that the South has decided to dissolve the body.

In late November, the government said that it will shut down the foundation in an move to effectively nullify a controversial accord signed in 2015 by the government of Moon's predecessor, President Park Geun-hye.

Moon viewed the deal as "seriously flawed" and decided not to use the fund.

"Since my inauguration, I've emphasized that there is a need to separate the resolution of wartime history-related issues and the development of Seoul-Tokyo ties in a future-oriented way," he said. "Political leaders from both countries need to encourage and spur friendship toward each other."

The Japanese delegation was visiting Seoul to attend a general meeting of a group of South Korean and Japanese lawmakers seeking to promote bilateral ties.

This photo, taken on Dec. 14, 2018, shows President Moon Jae-in (L) meeting with a group of Japanese lawmakers seeking to promote ties between South Korea and Japan. (Yonhap)

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