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(2nd LD) Berlin district office withholds order to remove sex slave statue

All News 20:20 October 14, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info in last 3 paras)

BERLIN/SEOUL, Oct. 14 (Yonhap) -- A Berlin district office has withheld its order to remove a statue symbolizing victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery following protests from activists and citizens.

The Mitte district office said in a statement Tuesday that the order to remove "The Statue of Peace" by Wednesday was no longer applicable due to an injunction filed by local civic group Korea Verband, which brands itself as a platform for all who are interested in Korea.

"We will take time to thoroughly study the positions of all parties involved in this complex dispute, as well as our own position," Stephan von Dassel, district mayor of Mitte, said in the statement.

"We would like to reach a compromise that reflects fairly the interests of Korea Verband and the interests of the Japanese side," he said.

Activists and citizens protest an order to remove a statue symbolizing victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery in front of the Mitte district office in Berlin on Oct. 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

The statue symbolizes 200,000 Asian women, mostly Koreans, who were forcibly sent to front-line brothels to work as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II.

Similar statues have been erected in several countries around the world, including in front of the former Japanese Embassy building in Seoul and at five locations across the United States.

The statue in Mitte was unveiled last month, but after facing apparent opposition from Japan, the district office ordered Korea Verband, the project leader, last Wednesday to have it removed within a week.

Von Dassel said in the statement that his district condemns all forms of sexual violence against women during armed conflicts and will not take further steps until a court ruling is given on the injunction.

He also appeared at a protest opposing the statue's removal, telling some 300 activists and citizens gathered in front of the district office that he was impressed by the level of civic participation and that he learned the history of the statues.

Von Dassel denied that the removal order was given under pressure from the Japanese government.

He said he received many complaints from Japanese citizens living in Berlin, as well as from the German federal government and the Berlin state government.

A possible solution to the dispute would be to expand the inscription on the statue to focus more on women victims of war, rather than on Japan's atrocities against Korea, according to local activists.

This photo provided Rep. Yang Ki-dae of the ruling Democratic Party shows the letter written by Lee Yong-soo, one of the surviving victims of the Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, Lee Yong-soo, one of 16 surviving South Korean victims, pleaded that the statue not be removed, especially from the capital of Germany, which she said, has been working hard to reflect on its past misdeeds and make history right.

In a press conference held in front of the National Assembly in Seoul, she said the removal of the statue, which she described as "historical evidence," would be "a bad thing to do and a crime" against humanity.

After the brief conference, she headed toward the Embassy of Germany to deliver her hand-written letter.

Lee Yong-soo, one of the surviving victims of the Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II, enters the Embassy of Germany in Seoul to deliver her hand-written letter on Oct. 14, 2020. (Yonhap)
Activists and citizens march in protest of the Mitte district office's order to remove a statue symbolizing victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery in Berlin on Oct. 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, Lee Jae-myung, governor of South Korea's Gyeonggi Province, said in a Facebook post that he has sent letters to the mayors of Berlin and Mitte, asking them not to remove the statue.

"On behalf of people in Gyeonggi Province of South Korea, I express my concern about Berlin city government's decision to remove the peace statue established through efforts of citizens from South Korea and Germany," wrote Lee, a leading potential presidential candidate affilated with the ruling Democratic Party.

"A removal would disappoint Koreans and conscientious people in the world who hope to build permanent peace based on historical lessons about war crimes and sexual violence," he said.


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