U.S. House includes 'comfort women' issue in spending bill

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON/SEOUL, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. House of Representatives took another landmark step Wednesday against Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean and other Asian women during World War II, formally calling on the secretary of state to pay more attention to the matter.

A document attached to a spending bill for 2014 urges the secretary to encourage the implementation of a 2007 resolution on the "comfort women" issue.

The House "notes" the passage of House Resolution 121 and "urges the Secretary of State to encourage the Government of Japan to address the issues raised in the resolution," it reads.

It marks the first time that the comfort women issue has been included in U.S. legislation, but the relevant document is nonbinding, congressional officials said.

The 2007 resolution, sponsored by Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), calls on the Japanese government to deliver an apology for the sexual enslavement.

Honda immediately welcomed the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2014, which includes a budget for the State Department.

In a statement, he said he pushed to include mention of the issue "as part of a long-running effort to seek justice for those enslaved as 'comfort women' during World War II."

An informed source said the House move would increase political pressure on Japan.

"The attachment of the 'comfort women' issue to the spending bill, which passed the House today, is highly symbolic in efforts to resolve the matter, since it was included in a U.S. congressional bill for the first time following the House's adoption of the resolution in 2007," the source said on condition of anonymity.

The Senate is expected to vote on the spending bill next week. If passed, it will be forwarded to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Japan's Imperial Armed Forces coerced around 200,000 "comfort women" into sexual slavery.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent visit to a disputed war shrine in Tokyo has drawn a strong condemnation from many U.S. lawmakers.

In Seoul, South Korea's foreign ministry spokesman said the passage clearly showed how the international community viewed Japan's past enslavement of comfort women and violation of human rights and dignity.

"Japan should humbly admit to its wartime violation of women's rights and make efforts to resolve the issue quickly," Cho Tai-young said in a briefing, repeating Seoul's call for early resolution.

A group of Korean sexual slavery victims and their supporters has been holding weekly demonstrations in front of Japan's Embassy in Seoul for years, demanding an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government. Tokyo, however, has kept mum on their calls.

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