US monument dedicated to Korean 'comfort women' near capital

Virginia county unveils sculptures, plaque to honour women Japan forced into army brothels

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 May, 2014, 11:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 June, 2014, 5:10am

A suburb of Washington has dedicated a monument to second world war sex slaves in the latest victory for Korean Americans in historical disputes with Japan.

After a campaign and fundraising by Korean American activists, the government centre of Fairfax County, Virginia, unveiled twin sculptures of butterflies and a plaque in honour of "comfort women". Up to 200,000 women from Korea and elsewhere were forced into brothels for Japan's soldiers.

On a green knoll, supporters released butterflies and sang the Korean folk anthem Arirang. A dancer in Korean costume cried as she glided around the plaque, which calls for "eternal peace and justice" for the sex slaves.

The Fairfax County board of supervisors said the monument "will serve as a lasting reminder and an affirmation to the world that all crimes against humanity, such as human trafficking, will not be condoned or tolerated".

Former sex slave Kang Il-chul, 87, flew in from South Korea to thank the crowd, saying she would share news of the monument with the dwindling number of remaining survivors. "The Japanese government should make a prompt apology for the 'comfort woman' issue," Kang said.

Japan apologised to former sex slaves in 1993 and set up a fund to compensate survivors.

While those in the Philippines and elsewhere accepted the money, most in South Korea refused because the funds came primarily from private sources and not the Japanese government.

Japan's embassy in Washington said that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stood by Tokyo's "sincere apologies and remorse" for the comfort women's "immeasurable pain and suffering" and did not want the issue to be "politicised".

Tokyo recently announced a review of its 1993 statement.

Yesterday in Tokyo, six former "comfort women" joined an international activist meeting to demand Japan formally atone for the sexual slavery. The Asian Solidarity Conference has been held 12 times since 1992 to admit responsibility for the wartime sex slavery.

The six who attended the meeting, from South Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia, and the daughter of another from China, also called on the Japanese government to provide compensation to the former sex slaves. "The Japanese government seems to be waiting for us to die," said South Korean Kim Bok-dong, 88, who was drafted into the brothel system aged 15 and served for nearly five years.