Japan PM: US Sex Slave Vote Regrettable

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 31, 2007; 11:12 AM

TOKYO -- Japan's prime minister said Tuesday that a U.S. resolution demanding Japan's formal apology for forcing thousands of Asian women into sex slavery during World War II was regrettable because Japan has already made amends.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution Monday urging Japan to "formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner" for the suffering of so-called "comfort women."

"The resolution is regrettable," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. "I explained my views and the government's response on this matter during my visit to the U.S. in April."

Historians say the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly sent hundreds of thousands of women, mainly from Korea, China and the Philippines, to wartime Japanese military brothels to work as prostitutes in the 1930s and 1940s.

Since the government acknowledged the practice in the early 1990s, Japanese leaders have repeatedly apologized over the issue. But in March, Abe triggered anger across Asia by saying there was no proof the women were coerced _ reflecting a view among Japan's right-wing politicians, who claim the issue has been fabricated or exaggerated.

In South Korea, presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-sun welcomed the resolution and urged Japan to face up to history.

"The best way of reconciliation is to view history correctly. Japan would not be unaware of this," Cheon said. "We expect Japan to show a changed attitude."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Japan had no plans to lodge a protest with Washington over the resolution.

"We have already worked to clearly explain Japan's view," Shiozaki said. "We will continue to do so."

In Washington, Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos called "nauseating" what he said were efforts by some in Japan "to distort and deny history and play a game of blame the victim."

"Inhumane deeds should be fully acknowledged," said Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "The world awaits a full reckoning of history from the Japanese government."

Though symbolic, the nonbinding resolution has caused unease in Japan and its relations with Washington. It is believed to add recent woes for Abe, whose ruling party faced a humiliating defeat in Sunday's parliamentary elections.

In 1993, Japan's government issued a carefully worded official apology but has rejected most compensation claims, saying they were settled by postwar treaties.

A fund created in 1995 by the government but run independently and financed by private donations has provided a way for Japan to compensate former sex slaves without making it official. Many comfort women, however, have rejected the money.

In Seoul, six former sex slaves and more than a dozen of their supporters staged a rally outside the Japanese Embassy, reiterating their demands for Tokyo's apology, while welcoming the resolution.

"Peace can be realized when (Japan) sincerely repents for its past and apologizes," said Kil Won-ok, a former sex slave.


Associated Press writers Foster Klug in Washington, Kana Inagaki in Tokyo and Jae-Soon Chang in Seoul contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Associated Press