Thursday, February 23, 2006

Korea's forced laborers to receive compensation

I'm a bit busy right now, so I'll fisk this later. It is pregnant with subtext.

SEOUL--In an attempt to resolve problems lingering since World War II, Seoul decided Wednesday to compensate Koreans forced to work for the Japanese military or companies during Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

Up to 100,000 South Koreans will be eligible for the individual compensation, government sources said. If those eligible have already died, their bereaved families will receive the payments, they said.

Forced laborer who returned to South Korea safely and without injuries will not be eligible, they added.

The South Korean government estimates that wages not paid by Japanese companies to the Korean forced laborers totaled 230 million yen.

But Seoul will not ask Tokyo to cover those expenses. Instead, it will seek Japan's cooperation in confirming the names of those qualified for compensation through lists of wartime laborers kept by Japanese companies, they said.

The decision by the government of President Roh Moo Hyun could affect lawsuits filed against Japan and companies by wartime forced laborers. The number of these lawsuits started increasing in the 1990s from Koreans demanding unpaid wages and other compensation from the Japanese government and the companies for which they were forced to work.

South Korea's move could also end decades of domestic criticism that the South Korean government did not do enough for those victimized during the colonization period.

When Japan and South Korea normalized diplomatic relations in 1965, they agreed that Japan would provide economic assistance worth $300 million in grants and $200 million in loans.

In exchange, South Korea, which was then under the control of the military government led by President Park Chung Hee, agreed to abandon its rights to claim compensation from Japan.

The "political settlement," however, sparked outrage among South Koreans.

Last year, the Roh government disclosed all documents concerning negotiations between Seoul and Tokyo on normalizing relations, and said it would resolve conscription-related issues by itself.

During the normalization talks, the South Korean government informed the Japanese government that 1.03 million South Koreans were forced to work for the Japanese military or companies, and that the financial damages they suffered exceeded $300 million.

From 1975 to 1977, the South Korean government paid 300,000 won (about 37,000 yen under current exchange rates) each to the bereaved families of 8,500 forced laborers who had died.

Seoul had used just 10 percent of the $300 million in grants paid by Japan to help the former forced laborers. Criticism erupted against the measure, and many South Koreans said the size of the payment and the number of people eligible were insufficient.

Some groups of war victims or their bereaved families insist that all $300 million should have been used for war victims. They are demanding that the South Korean government create a budget allocation for individual compensation.

Therefore, a decision on the actual amount of money to be paid will be delayed until March, the sources said.

The South Korean government said Wednesday the planned payments are intended to support the current lives of those who were conscripted or their bereaved families.

"It is effectively compensation," a government source said.

But the issue concerning women forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II was not discussed in the bilateral negotiations in the 1960s. The South Korean government says Japan has a legal and moral responsibility to compensate these women.

North Korea has insisted that Japan offer compensation as well as economic assistance for its colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

However, the South Korean government's decision to pay individual compensation by itself could influence bilateral negotiations between Tokyo and Pyongyang on normalizing relations.

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