Chemical weapons victims hope for redress in Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 September, 2003, 12:00am

Thirteen people injured by chemical weapons abandoned by Japanese soldiers at the end of the second world war will fly to Tokyo next Thursday for a court hearing on their compensation claims.

Most of the victims were working on a river dredger when they accidentally dug up a mustard gas bomb in 1974. They launched their lawsuit against the Japanese government in 1995 and will finally appear in Tokyo District Court for a hearing on September 29, said Li Cheng, one of the plaintiffs. They are seeking 360 million yen (HK$24 million) in damages.

This will be the second time Chinese civilians have tried to sue the Japanese government over injuries from abandoned chemical weapons.

In May, the Tokyo District Court rejected a suit from five people, causing a furore across China. Japan maintains it has already settled its wartime debts to China.

Mr Li said he would never forget the day he was injured because he had carried the bomb from the river to the dredger boat.'We had no idea what it was. Within a few hours we developed respiratory problems, skin irritation and a severe headache. The next morning I had blisters as big as grapes all over my body,' recalled the 58-year-old, who still suffers from headaches and pain in his limbs.

'Doctors had to use scissors to cut off the blisters and spray alcohol on the wounds. But the blisters kept coming out and they had to do that every few days. The pain was unthinkable.'

But the biggest pain was the psychological trauma and the apathy of people to his plight.

'I have nightmares every night, even to this day. All my relatives and friends suddenly disappeared after they learned what had happened to me. People shunned me like they do Sars patients today.

'I lost the ability to work and there was no social welfare at that time. My wife and I had to salvage garbage to eke out a living. My infant daughter almost died from hunger.'

At one point the pain was so unbearable that Mr Li tried to kill himself.

'I took a bottle of poison. My wife found out in time and she rushed me to hospital. Doctors said I was beyond help and handed her a death certificate. She begged them again and again and finally they tried every method to bring me back.'

But despite all his suffering, Mr Li said he had no ill feelings towards the Japanese.

'I hate the extremists and war criminals. But the new generation of Japanese are mostly good people. When I went to Japan they treated me well. I only wish to let more people be aware of the past so we can avoid the same thing from happening again.'

But the lawsuit has received little support from the central government.

The group had originally planned to visit Japan today to mark the 72nd anniversary of the Sino-Japanese war. But Harbin authorities refused their visa application, according to Lo Lijun, a lawyer representing the 13.

The Japanese government has denied responsibility, saying it was unaware of the whereabouts of the chemical weapons and that it would not have been able to search areas outside its jurisdiction.