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GEOJE, South Korea, Jan. 17 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean civic group dedicated a statue in the southern city of Geoje Friday to mark the suffering of Korean women forced into sexual slavery by colonial Japan during World War II.
Up to 200,000 young women and girls, mostly Koreans, were coerced into providing sexual services at Japan's front-line military brothels during World War II, which remains an unresolved grievance between the two nations as Tokyo has refused to admit to its past wrongdoings.
According to the committee in charge of the project led by civic activists, the bronze statue named "The Girl Statue for Peace" was set up in a park at the Geoje Arts Center in the coastal city in South Gyeongsang Province, some 470 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
The 160-centimeter-tall sculpture is the second of its kind in South Korea, with the first one, a "peace statue" of a girl seated in a chair, being installed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in 2011.
Unlike the original version in Seoul, however, the new sculpture shows a girl standing next to an empty chair, which represents a strong will "not to just sit and watch Japan's continued attempts to cover up and distort history," according to the committee and its sculptors.
"It aims to ring an alarm bell over the violation of rights by Japan and to teach the future generations a lesson of the painful history," committee chief Park Myung-ok said during the dedication ceremony.
The committee has raised 42.98 million won (US$40,513) for the project since last July, including 1 million won donated by Kim Bok-deuk, the oldest surviving victim at age 97.
"Across the nation, our province saw the largest number of sexual slavery victims during the colonial rule. I hope the region becomes a symbol of human rights of women and peace," Park added.
South Korea has increased pressure on Japan to resolve the thorny issue, saying the matter is becoming increasingly urgent as most victims are well over 80 years old and may die before they receive an apology or compensation from Japan.
The number of government-registered former "comfort women" came to 57, down from the initial number of 234 on the list.
Comfort women is a euphemistic term for victims of Japan's sexual slavery.
Japan, however, has been ignoring calls for official talks on the issue, claiming all matters regarding its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula were settled in a 1965 package compensation deal under which the two countries normalized their relations.
But Tokyo has come under growing international pressure and criticism in recent weeks particularly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the controversial shrine of Yasukuni, which honors Class A war criminals during World War II.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved a spending bill that calls on the secretary of state to step up efforts to get Japan to apologize for its enforcement of Korean and other Asian women into sex slavery in the early 20th century. It is the first time that the issue has been addressed in U.S. legislation.
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