December 15, 2011 09:09
A statue of a "comfort woman" forced into sexual slavery during World War II that was set up in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday is heightening diplomatic tensions between Korea and Japan.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters Wednesday it was "very regrettable" that the statue was unveiled to mark the 1,000th weekly protest by former "comfort women" and their supporters.
Fujimura said the Japanese government would call on Korea to remove the monument, and Japanese Ambassador to Korea Masatoshi Muto met with Vice Foreign Minister Park Suk-hwan on Wednesday to inform him of Tokyo's position.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asia chief Shinsuke Sugiyama apparently conveyed the same message when he visited Seoul to discuss arrangements for President Lee Myung-bak's upcoming visit to Japan.
But the Korean Foreign Ministry in a statement said the statue "reflects the genuine desire of the victims to urge the Japanese government to take responsibility and to restore their honor as they mark their 1,000th protest rally." The government says it cannot meddle in what a civilian group does.
Comfort women demand a sincere apology and compensation from the Japanese government, which continues to deny any official involvement in the atrocities of Japanese soldiers during the war.
Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday said Lee will visit Kyoto on Saturday to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. But there are concerns that the two leaders may not be able to achieve major agreements if the tensions continue.
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