Japan's new prime minister should keep his word and give official apology and compensation to women across Asia who were forced into sex slavery during World War II, a South Korean victim said Wednesday, representing dozens of others.
The women gathered in Tokyo to pressure Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who as opposition leader in 2002 told lawmakers the Japanese government should "offer compensation to the victims and restore their honor."
Lee Yong-soo said Hatoyama has been supportive of the so-called "comfort women" since she first met him as opposition leader over a decade ago in Seoul.
"Now Mr. Hatoyama is prime minister. It's time for him to settle the issue," said the 80-year-old Lee, who said she was forced to become a sex slave in Taiwan after being abducted from Korea by Japanese soldiers in 1944.
Historians say up to 200,000 women, mainly from the Korean peninsula and China, were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers in military brothels during the war. Many more women were raped as Japanese troops rampaged through the region. Only hundreds of the women are believed to still be alive.
Wartime documents discovered in 1992 forced the government to acknowledge the sex slavery for the first time and to offer an apology _ though parliament did not approve it _ the following year.
Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan, along with two smaller parties, has repeatedly submitted a bill in recent years calling for official government redress for the sex slaves. Their past eight attempts were crushed by previous governments, many of whose members have defended Japan's militaristic past.
Now Hatoyama's party is in charge after taking power in a landslide election win in August.
"We have high expectations for Japan's new government," said Yoon Mee-Hyang, representative of the Korean Council, a Seoul-based group supporting former sex slaves. "For Prime Minister Hatoyama ... the first thing he should do is settle Japan's compensation for its wartime atrocities, including the comfort women issue."
Officials at the prime minister's office were not available for comment about Wednesday's meeting, which was attended by several Democratic lawmakers. Organizers said the government has not responded to Lee's request for a meeting with Hatoyama.
Tokyo in 1995 initiated a fund of private donations as a way for Japan to pay former sex slaves without providing official compensation.
Many comfort women, including Lee, have rejected the fund, demanding a government apology approved by Parliament, along with compensation paid by the government.
"Prime Minister Hatoyama still has many years ahead of him. But many victims are past 80, many others have already died," Lee said. "But it's not too late. I just want him to say he will solve the problem."