North Koreans find unlikely allies in fight to save Tokyo school

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 July, 2005, 12:00am

North Korean residents of Japan have found unlikely support from a group of politicians from Seoul who have vowed to help defend a school that teaches Pyongyang's doctrines in Tokyo.

Tokyo's nationalist governor, Shintaro Ishihara, wants to tear down the Edagawa Chosun School in central Koto ward.

Supporters are hoping to stave off a city government lawsuit demanding the return of the site, as well as 400 million yen ($27.7 million) in compensation for what it claims is illegal use of the land since the lease expired in 1990.

The lawsuit was launched after Mr Ishihara requested in 2003 that the Koreans pay back rent and buy the land - for a whopping 1.3 billion yen - or return it to the city.

The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, which is allied with North Korea, operates the school and says it has neither the funds to pay nor the obligation.

Its backers agree. 'It has been 100 years since Japan started its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and 40 years since Tokyo and Seoul established diplomatic relations, but still our people face discrimination and problems in Japan,' said Yoo Ki-hong, a member of South Korea's Uri Party.

He was part of a delegation from the South that visited the school last week.

'The Edagawa school is a symbolic example,' he said. 'In 1940, under the pretext of the area where Korean people then lived being redeveloped for planned Olympic Games, thousands of Koreans were forced to move to a site used as a rubbish dump. There, they gradually built their homes and the school, making it the cradle of Korean people in Japan.'

If the city wins control of the land, it is likely to be used to build apartments. A metropolitan government spokesman refused to comment on the case. It is not clear when a ruling might be made.

A 1972 agreement with Tokyo had allowed the school to use the land for free. Talks to enable it to buy it began before 2001, although the current price tag was not anticipated.

The Korean side argues that the Tokyo government should stick to a 2000 agreement enabling local residents to buy the land on which their houses stood for 7 per cent of market value due to 'historical circumstances'.

'The suit is linked to the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea and it is simply taking advantage of anti-North Korean sentiment,' said Shim Jae-whan, a lawyer fighting the case.

A request to meet Mr Ishihara had gone unanswered, he said.

'I went to the school today, the first time a South Korean politician has visited a North Korean school,' Mr Yoo said. 'I believe in the not-so-distant future, our country will be reunified and so the children at this school will be our children too.

'I felt there were some differences at the school to a South Korean education, but this is an educational issue, not an ideological one.'

'We have the support of 30 South Korean politicians, citizens, lawyers and Buddhist priests and we have come to Japan to protect Koreans' rights after 60 years of oppression.'