12 former sex slaves file compensation suit in S. Korea against Tokyo

GWANGJU/SEOUL, Aug. 13 (Yonhap) -- Twelve elderly South Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japan during World War II applied for a local court's mediation on Tuesday before filing a formal compensation suit against the Japanese government, court officials said.

The twelve, including 86-year-old Lee Ok-seon, submitted a request for civil mediation to the Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul, the officials said.

The former sex slaves are demanding a combined amount of 1.2 billion won (US$1.07 million), or 100 million won each, in compensation from the Japanese government.

Many of the former sex slaves, euphemistically referred to as "comfort women," have filed compensation suits in Japan, but this marks the first time that such a lawsuit is filed in South Korea.

Under the Civil Conciliation Act, the women can officially file a compensation suit if the Japanese government refuses to comply with the court's mediation plan.

But even if the court orders compensation, the women should file a separate lawsuit with a Japanese court to receive the money.

"The issue of former sex slaves can be resolved when governments of South Korea and Japan make diplomatic efforts using this kind of lawsuits as leverage," said Kim Gang-won, the lawyer for the women. "We will continue to raise lawsuits with other elderly former comfort women as plaintiffs," he added.

Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual servitude by the Japanese army at front-line brothels during the war when the Korean Peninsula was a Japanese colony.

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