South Korean President Lee Myung Bak calls Japan to compensate for wartime sex slaves

South Korea President Lee Myung Bak speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, New York on Sept. 21. Lee said he wants to offer North Kor

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak urged Japan to compensate Korean women forced into prostitution during World War II, an issue that has hindered relations between the two countries.

“I would like a more active stance from the Japanese government on the comfort women issue as some of these women are in their late 80s,” Lee said in a speech today in Seoul marking the Independence Day holiday. “For the two counties to move forward as well as cooperate as real partners, both need to face the truth of the past.”

As many as 200,000 women, mostly from Korea and China, were forced into sexual servitude during the Japanese occupation of Asia in the first half of the 20th century. Japan apologized in 1993 and set up a compensation fund that some victims rejected because it was funded through private contributions.

Lee brought the issue up with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda when the two met in December in Kyoto. Several so-called comfort women and their supporters installed a bronze statue of a young girl in traditional Korean dress in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul in protest on Dec. 13 and Japan asked that it be removed.