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Japanese apology inadequate, women say


On Oct. 8, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi “expressed deep remorse and extended a heartfelt apology” for Japan’s inflicting “heavy damage and pain on the people of South Korea through its colonial rule.”

South Korean President Kim Dae Jung accepted the apology and later told Japan’s parliament that their two nations have looked squarely at their mutual past, and now it is time “to forge a future-oriented relationship.” Obuchi also called the declaration a new start for the two countries.

But not everyone was pleased. “The [comfort] women are a little bit upset that he didn’t talk about their issue,” Susana Yoon told NCR in a telephone interview on Oct. 9. Yoon is general secretary of a Catholic women’s group that is part of a coalition of 75 organizations publicly giving support to the pleas of the older women.

“We are seriously disappointed because the joint announcement doesn’t even mention the issue of” women forced into sexual slavery, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, said in a statement.

Yoon said that the South Korean media was reporting Oct. 9 that Kim had spoken privately and unofficially to Obuchi about the sexual slavery issue.

Japan watchers noted that the words of the apology differed little from past statements, which South Korea considered to be lacking in sincerity.

However, for this apology, the two sides negotiated the phrasing, wrote it out on paper and signed it, putting Japan’s recognition of past misdeeds in a historic document.

Kim said the apology is different from previous statements by the Japanese government “in terms of form and gravity.”

The coalition has pledged to keep pressing its demands. It has no plans to discontinue the weekly Wednesday protests at the Japanese embassy in Seoul. “Our movement will continue,” Yoon said. “A specific apology, this has always been our demand.”

National Catholic Reporter, October 23, 1998