By Jack Kim
SEOUL, Dec 30 – Hundreds of South Korean protesters joined two surviving former “comfort women” on Wednesday to denounce an agreement with Japan to resolve an issue stemming from Japan’s wartime past that has long plagued ties between neighbours.
The two “comfort women”, as those who were forced to work at Japan’s wartime military brothels are euphemistically known, criticised the government for agreeing with Japan on Monday to “finally and irreversibly” settle the issue.
“The government cannot be trusted,” said one of the women, Lee Yong-su, 88.
She said she and fellow survivors were never consulted by officials as they negotiated the agreement.
“We will continue to fight until the end,” she said.
She and the other protesters, including students, opposition legislators and civic activists, are demanding what they call a sincere apology from Japan and formal compensation for victims.
“We did nothing wrong,” Lee said. “Japan took us to be comfort women and still tries to deny its crime.”
Under the agreement, Japan will establish a fund to help surviving victims and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe renewed an apology.
The United States, keen to see its Asian allies improve ties, welcomed the accord.
The protesters spilled onto the street in front of Japan’s embassy in Seoul and milled around a bronze statue of a barefoot teenage girl, symbolizing the women forced to work in the Japanese brothels.
Weekly rallies have been held outside the embassy since 1992 to demand a sincere Japanese government apology and reparations for victims.
For Japan, the statue, erected in 2011, has become a symbol of South Korea’s unwillingness to lay the issue to rest.
Strains between Japan and South Korea have prevented them from signing an agreement to share sensitive military information.
A year ago, they signed a three-way pact under which South Korea routes its information to the United States, which then passes it on to Japan, and vice versa.
Scholars debate the question of how many women were exploited.
South Korean activists say there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean victims, only a few of whom have ever told of the abuse they endured at the hands of Japanese forces before or during the Second World War.
Only 46 survivors remain of 238 women in South Korea who came forward in the early 1990s and their average age is 89.