South Korea and Japan to Hold Talks over Comfort Women

, Nov. 10, 2015, 7:33 a.m.

South Korea announced Tuesday it will hold talks with Japan on one of the thorniest bilateral issues: Korean women forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II. The working-level meeting will open in Seoul on Wednesday, according to the Foreign Ministry. The two sides have held nine rounds of relevant negotiations since April last year.

The 10th round will fall just days after the first summit between President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Seoul. They agreed to facilitate the talks on the former sex slaves who are euphemistically called "comfort women." More than 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual servitude for frontline Japanese soldiers during the war.

South Korea is demanding a formal apology and compensation for Korean victims from Japan. Tokyo maintains that the legal issue was already settled in a 1965 deal to normalize diplomatic relations with Seoul. Park wants to resolve the dispute within this year, while Abe refused to set any deadline. Presiding over a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, Park instructed officials in charge of the matter to resolve it as early as possible.

Hours later, the Foreign Ministry pressed Japan to make a concession. "Our government's position is constant and firm. The comfort women issue should be resolved urgently," the ministry's spokesman Cho June-hyuck said during his first press briefing in the post. Cho stressed that the Japanese government should present a "solution that victims can accept and convince our people."

Speaking at a parliamentary session In Tokyo, Abe made clear that there is no change in his stance that the issue was settled with the 1965 accord. Katsuya Okada, leader of Japan's opposition Democratic Party, agreed that there is no room for a legal controversy.

"But it does not mean everything is done. Mutual, not unilateral, efforts are needed for reconciliation," he said. In Wednesday's talks, South Korea will be represented by Lee Sang-duk, director-general of the ministry's Northeast Asian bureau. His Japanese counterpart is Kimihiro Ishikane, who heads the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian affairs bureau.

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