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South Korea, Japan reach agreement on 'comfort women' By Holly Yan, KJ Kwon, Junko Ogura and Tiffany Ap, CNN
South Korea, Japan reach agreement on 'comfort women'
By Holly Yan, KJ Kwon, Junko Ogura and Tiffany Ap, CNN
Updated 0852 GMT (1652 HKT) December 29, 2015
South Korea and Japan reach deal on 'comfort women'

South Korea and Japan reach deal on 'comfort women' 02:07
Story highlights
An advocacy group for the former sex slaves says the deal is "a diplomatic humiliation"
Japan says it will give 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) to a fund to help former comfort women
An estimated 200,000 women were used as sex slaves by Japanese soldiers in World War II
(CNN)Japan and South Korea have reached an agreement over the long-standing issue of "comfort women," a term that describes sex slaves used by the Japanese military during World War II.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said his government will give 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) to a fund to help those who suffered.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said that as long as Tokyo sticks to its side of the deal, Seoul will consider the issue "irreversibly" resolved.

In addition, the two governments "will refrain from criticizing and blaming each other in the international society, including the United Nations," Yun said at a joint news conference Monday.

Kishida said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women."

Abe later stated himself: "I think we did our duty for the current generation by reaching this final and irreversible resolution before the end of the 70th year since the war."

Comfort woman describes her horrific experience 02:17
'A diplomatic humiliation'
But an advocacy group for former comfort women said the deal announced Monday is "a diplomatic humiliation."

"Although the Japanese government announced that it 'feels (its) responsibilities,' the statement lacks the acknowledgment of the fact that the colonial government and its military had committed a systematic crime," said the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery. "The government had not just been simply involved but actively initiated the activities which were criminal and illegal."

The group took issue that it did not address the issue of Japanese history textbooks glossing over the scope of the war crimes.

"Also, it is notable that the agreement did not specify anything on preventative initiatives such as truth seeking and history education," it said.

Japan helped establish the Asian Women's Fund in 1995, which is supported by private donors and provides assistance to former comfort women.

But up until now Tokyo had resisted direct compensation to the victims, prompting activists and former comfort women to say Japanese leaders were avoiding officially acknowledging what happened.

Stumbling block
It's estimated that up to 200,000 women were forced to be sex slaves for Japanese soldiers in World War II, mainly Korean. Other women came from China, Taiwan and Indonesia.

The agreement stems from accelerated talks that began in November. Last month, Japan, South Korea and China announced they had 'completely restored' diplomatic relations.

The three countries had not met for three years due to political tensions. South Korean President Park Guen-hye said at the time that "comfort women" was the "biggest stumbling block" to Seoul-Tokyo relations.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the forced recruitment of the "comfort women" was a grave crime against humanity.

"The Chinese side always maintains that the Japanese side should face up to and reflect upon its history of aggression and properly deal with the relevant issue with a sense of responsibility."

China, which was also occupied by Japan prior to and during the World War II has long been critical of its neighbor's role in the war and its apparent lack of remorse for war crimes following defeat in 1945.

Chapter closed?
The Japanese government requested South Korea remove this statue symbolizing "comfort women" which currently sits in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea.
The Japanese government requested South Korea remove this statue symbolizing "comfort women" which currently sits in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea.
Only a few dozen of the women are still alive today.

S.J. Friedman, author of "Silenced No More: Voices of Comfort Women" said she doesn't believe this new agreement, even with direct compensation, will close a chapter on Japan's wartime sexual slavery.

"I think this is just the beginning," she said.

"I've spoken to the comfort women survivors and they don't want the money. They want a sincere apology, the one that Willy Brandt gave at the Holocaust memorial. The Holocaust survivors said they were healed by that apology."

Japan, in the agreement, also asked South Korea to remove a statue symbolizing comfort women that sits outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

"The activists are furious by the deal," Friedman continued. "The wording of the deal doesn't include the Japanese government systematically organized the military enslavement and the Japanese government wants the statue to be removed. I think it's insincere."

One comfort woman's story
Kim Bok-dong was a 14-year-old girl when the Japanese came to her village in Korea.

She said they told her she had no choice but to leave her home and family to support the war effort by working at a sewing factory.

"There was no option not to go," the 89-year-old woman told CNN's Will Ripley this year. "If we didn't go, we'd be considered traitors."

But instead of going to a sewing factory, Kim said, she ended up in Japanese military brothels in half a dozen countries.

There, Kim said, she was locked up and ordered to perform acts no teenage girl -- or woman -- should be forced to do.

She described seemingly endless days of soldiers lined up outside the brothel, called a "comfort station."

"Our job was to revitalize the soldiers," she said. "On Saturdays, they would start lining up at noon. And it would last until 8 p.m."

Kim estimated each Japanese soldier took around three minutes. They usually kept their boots and leg wraps on, hurriedly finishing so the next soldier could have his turn. Kim says it was dehumanizing, exhausting and often excruciating.

"When it was over, I couldn't even get up. It went on for such a long time," she said. "By the time the sun went down, I couldn't use my lower body at all."

Kim believes the years of physical abuse took a permanent toll on her body.

"There are no words to describe my suffering," she said. "Even now. I can't live without medicine. I'm always in pain."

CNN's Sol Han and Yazhou Sun contributed to this report.

December 29, 2015 5:32 am JST
'Comfort women' accord
Leaders narrowly beat the clock with historic agreement

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye strove to reach a deal before the end of 2015. © Yonhap/Kyodo
SEOUL -- Japan and South Korea's deal on the wartime "comfort women" issue, reached just three days before the end of 2015, was the result of efforts by both sides to capitalize on the opportunity afforded by the 50th anniversary of the normalization of ties between the two nations.

Taking responsibility

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday afternoon, sending him to South Korea. "I'll take responsibility," the prime minister told Kishida.

"I'll leave it to your discretion. There's no need to compromise," Abe said, adding that the meeting would have "historical significance" if a deal could be put together. He also stressed that including a reference to an agreement being a "final and irreversible" resolution to the issue was a nonnegotiable condition.

Abe's decision came in light of softening by Seoul. On Wednesday, South Korea's Constitutional Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the 1965 treaty that declared all individual claims between Japan and South Korea permanently settled. At this news, Abe directed his executive secretary to work toward an agreement on the comfort women issue by the end of the year. The former Seoul bureau chief of the Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, also had been found not guilty recently of defaming South Korean President Park Geun-hye, and prosecutors there Tuesday declined to appeal the ruling.

South Korea demonstrated its good faith, so Japan would reciprocate, an Abe aide said. Senior national security adviser Shotaro Yachi went to South Korea over the two days ended Wednesday for an unofficial meeting with presidential chief of staff Lee Byung-kee. Yachi had been sent to the country secretly in June as well. The trust built between Yachi and Lee helped to pave the way for the agreement.

Seoul and Tokyo compromised on the size of a fund to assist former comfort women Japan had offered to set up. More than 1 billion yen ($8.22 million) will be provided, splitting the difference between Japan's initial proposal of over 100 million yen and South Korea's request for at least 2 billion yen.

"We demonstrated the highest degree of good faith," a Japanese government source said.

Japan's 2016 upper house elections also likely were on Abe's mind. Mending fences with South Korea would obviate the need to respond to criticism from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. The prime minister wrapped up a phone call with Park on Monday evening by saying he looks forward to seeing her visit Japan.

December 29, 2015 5:32 am JST
'Comfort women' accord
Leaders narrowly beat the clock with historic agreement
Park was motivated largely by the wishes of the U.S., a South Korean government source said. Washington, which had shown an understanding of Seoul's stance on clashes with Japan over history, began pressing harder for a rapprochement around this past spring.

At an October summit, U.S. President Barack Obama warned Park about South Korea's diplomatic strategy of cozying up to both Washington and Beijing. Seoul, fearing it could be left isolated, decided to work on fixing relations with Japan.

Park also was driven by concern that allowing this year's diplomatic milestone to pass by would eliminate a key motivating factor, as well as worry about the diminishing ranks of aging former comfort women. She decided during the summer to accelerate talks on the issue, trying to take advantage of this window of opportunity before it was shut forever.

Public opinion toward a thaw with Japan has turned more positive amid a flagging economy. South Korea is poised to shift to campaign mode as the April general election approaches. With reformers among the opposition ready to pounce over the comfort women issue, Park saw this as, effectively, the last chance for a deal with Japan.

Pressure from Washington

The agreement was in line with U.S. expectations. Obama told Abe at an April meeting that Washington would support efforts to improve relations between Japan and South Korea, particularly given the need to present a united front against North Korea. And when Obama met with Park in October, he said that he hopes the two sides can resolve their knotty historical issues to create a forward-looking relationship in northeastern Asia.

"Next they'll bring the U.S. between them and affirm unity in East Asia," a Japanese government source said.

Abe said during the phone call with Park that he aims to bolster bilateral cooperation in a number of fields, including security, to further the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo. Park said she agrees on the need to work together more closely on defense, adding that she hopes for continued close cooperation in dealing with North Korea and other issues.

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