S. Korea, Japan resume sex slavery talks

SEOUL, July 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and Japan resumed director-general-level talks in Seoul on Wednesday following a hiatus in June to discuss the Japanese Imperial Army's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.

Lee Sang-deok, director general of the Northeast Asian affairs bureau of Seoul's foreign ministry, met with his Japanese counterpart, Junichi Ihara, in their third round of talks to discuss what is euphemistically called the "comfort women" issue, according to the foreign ministry.

Seoul and Tokyo held such talks in May following their agreement in April to have such a meeting on a monthly basis.

But such talks were suspended last month as Japan announced the results of a review of its landmark 1993 statement acknowledging its wartime sexual enslavement of Asian women for its troops during the war.

Upon arrival at Seoul's foreign ministry, Ihara remained tightlipped about the prospects of Wednesday's meeting.

The Kono statement has been a key element of the basis of relations between Seoul and Tokyo, together with a broader 1995 apology for the 1910-45 colonial occupation, known as the Murayama statement. The 1993 statement was written based on the accounts of 16 Korean victims.

Japan's review of the statement invited strong criticism from South Korea as Japan indicated that the apology was the outcome of political compromise between Seoul and Tokyo.

The issue of sexual slavery has long been a source of diplomatic tension between the two countries as Japan has rejected Seoul's call to resolve the issue by showing sincerity, including through a formal apology and compensation.

Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mainly from Korea and China, were forced to work at front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Japan has claimed that all grievances related to its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula were settled through a 1965 treaty that normalized their bilateral ties.

Almost all of the women have already died, increasing worries that the remaining victims may also pass away before Japan makes atonement. Only 54 victims remain alive in South Korea, with their average age standing at 88.

The two diplomats from Seoul and Tokyo are also expected to discuss other topics in a separate session, according to officials at the foreign ministry.

They are likely to exchange views about whether the two countries' foreign ministers will hold a meeting on the sidelines of next month's ASEAN Regional Forum in Myanmar, they added.

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