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(LEAD) Former 'comfort woman' calls for justice for former civic group head, 'accurate' history education for students of S. Korea, Japan

National 18:26 May 25, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 16-18, photo)
By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, May 25 (Yonhap) -- A former wartime sexual slavery victim reiterated her call on Monday for holding the former head of an advocate group tasked with helping victims accountable for alleged accounting malpractices.

Appearing in front of live cameras, Lee Yong-soo, a 92-year-old victim of the Japanese military's sexual slavery during World War II, said the activist-turned-lawmaker-elect Yoon Mee-hyang "used" aged victims to raise funds and help promote the cause of the group, the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.

Yoon had led the group for three decades until she won a parliamentary seat in last month's general elections.

Lee Yong-soo, a former wartime sexual slavery victim, sips water during a press conference in Daegu, 302 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on May 25, 2020. (Yonhap)

The press conference, held in the southeastern city of Daegu where Lee lives, drew a lot of media attention here, as it was her first public appearance since May 7, when she created a stir by publicly accusing Yoon of what she claimed are shady bookkeeping practices.

The 92-year-old claimed that the group has never spent funds and public donations for the victims.

"Students make donations from their pocket money when they join the Wednesday weekly rally, but the money has never been used for the (victim) grandmothers," she said during the press conference.

The group and Yoon denied the allegations.

Lee's accusations have led to a flurry of complaints filed by civic groups and a prosecution investigation.

Lee Yong-soo, a former wartime sexual slavery victim, leaves a hotel in Daegu, 302 kilometers southeast of Seoul, after an emotional press conference on May 25, 2020. (Yonhap)

On top of the allegations over bookkeeping practices, Lee complained Monday that the group mixed the so-called comfort women issue with that of female forced laborers.

A comfort woman is a euphemistic term for the victims who were forced to work in Japanese front-line brothels during World War II when Korea was a Japanese colony.

She argued that the comfort women issue should be handled independently from those of other women who were forced to work in Japanese factories during the war.

"Comfort women risked their lives. And in fact, many women died (while working,)" she said.

She also strongly objected to being called a "sex slave."

"Why using (the term) sex slaves? They said it was to make Americans (better) understand," she said.

"What have they achieved by selling us? They built a luxurious shelter (for victims) where, I heard, Yoon Mee-hyang's father lived," she said during the emotional conference.

The front door of a shelter for comfort women victims in Anseong, south of Seoul, which is run by the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, is closed on May 17, 2020. (Yonhap)

The civic group built the shelter for the aging victims, "House of Peace and Cure," in Anseong, south of Seoul, in 2013 with corporate donations.

The group is suspected of purchasing the shelter building at a price far above market value and reselling it below the market price this year, raising the possibility of fund misappropriation.

Yoon denied the allegation but apologized over having her father take care of the house for a monthly pay of 1.2 million won (US$967).

"Prosecutors will reveal the truth. They should hold those who don't have a clue about what they did wrong accountable," she said. "Those who committed a sin should be punished."

She also laid out a rather vague idea as an alternative to the weekly rally that has been taking place since 1992 to show support for and solidarity with the comfort women.

"I am not saying we should end the protest. What I am saying is that we should change its form," she said, adding that students from South Korea and neighboring Japan should meet up regularly to learn accurate history.

"However long it takes, young people should stay close and learn about history and solve the comfort women issue," she said.

Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual servitude during the war. There are now 18 surviving victims in South Korea.

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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