New group to identify wartime Japanese collaborators While South Korea continues to adopt a hard line against this week's visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine, it is simultaneously wrestling to come to terms with its own legacy of 35 years of Japanese colonial rule. From today, a newly established committee will start work identifying and confiscating assets acquired by Koreans who collaborated with the Japanese colonial authorities. The move has been widely welcomed by the public and the media, despite the deep sensitivity of the issue. 'I think this project needs to be done. South Korea has suffered continuous controversies about the past. It is time to confront them and put them to rest,' said Sohn Jung-sook, of the Ewha University history department. The subject of collaborators remains a deeply divisive issue in South Korea because many of the children and grandchildren of collaborators have gone on to become members of the country's elite, while many families of independence fighters struggled. This trend is recognised in a popular saying: 'Just as the prosperity of a betrayer's family lasts three generations, so does the poverty of an independence fighter's family.' The new Committee for the Inspection of Property of Japan Collaborators, including officials from South Korea's tax office, as well as justice and finance ministries, will initially investigate the property records of 400 people who are alleged to have collaborated with the Japanese authorities. The officials will decide whether their assets, which were then often handed over to descendants, should be returned to the state. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has made it a priority of his administration to shed light on the country's tumultuous recent history. He believes South Korea has never entirely confronted the legacy of the country's military dictatorship and colonial rule, including the issue of collaboration. Historical circumstances meant South Korea was unable to address the issue after the defeat of Japan in the second world war and the end of colonial rule. After Korea regained its independence, growing tensions between the US and Soviet-administered parts of the peninsula led to the creation of the two Koreas in 1948. In South Korea, the struggle against communism overshadowed the need to seek redress against those suspected of collaborating with the former Japanese colonial authorities. Another committee, similar in scope to the newly created body, was set up in 1948 to investigate anti-national activities, but it was disbanded in the face of opposition from the US and the newly created government. In the South, most of the bureaucrats from the Japanese colonial period retained office. 'Following the collapse of the Japanese empire, those Koreans who had worked so hard for the Japanese empire switched their loyalty to a new master, the US, which lived by the motto - 'anti-communists are our friends, no questions are asked of their past misdeeds',' according to left-wing academic Han Sang-bum, of Dongguk University. Many leading Koreans have been accused of being collaborators, including South Korea's long-term military dictator Park Chung-hee. Before becoming the driving force behind South Korea's economic development, he was also an officer in the Japanese Imperial Army. Accusations have also been levelled against the head of South Korea's top women's Ewha University, Helen Kim, who called on students to join the Women's Patriot Service Corp, which led to thousands being forced into prostitution for Japanese soldiers.