South Korean self-immolates over ‘comfort women’ deal with Japan, as PM Abe urges Seoul to remove new statue

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 12:39pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 10:32pm

A South Korean monk was in critical condition after setting himself on fire to protest Seoul’s “comfort women” compensation deal with Tokyo. At the same time, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged South Korea to remove a new statue dedicated to women forced to work in Japan’s wartime brothels, as he called on Seoul to implement the agreement reached in 2015 which aimed to settle the issue.

“The South Korean side should show its sincerity,” the premier said on a television programme on Sunday, referring to the statue installed late last month outside the Japanese consulate in the southern South Korean city of Busan.

The statue is one of a number in South Korea representing comfort women procured for the Japanese military’s wartime brothels before and during the second world war. The latest statue erection came despite the bilateral agreement in December 2015 aimed at fully settling the issue.

Abe said during the NHK television programme recorded on Friday that South Korea should carry out the agreement whether its leadership changes, as this is “a matter of credibility.”

The statue issue arose amid political turmoil in South Korea. Parliament impeached President Park Geun-hye last month following a political scandal and her powers have been transferred to acting president and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.

In the pact, South Korea said it will strive to solve the issue of a statue which stands in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul “in an appropriate manner”. Japan has transferred 1 billion yen (US$8.5 million) to care for the surviving victims and their families as part of the deal.

The plea was broadcast just hours after reports a South Korean Buddhist monk set himself on fire to protest the agreement.

The 64-year-old monk suffered third-degree burns across his body and serious damage to vital organs. He’s unconscious and unable to breathe on his own, said an official from the Seoul National University Hospital, who didn’t want to be named citing office rules.

The man set himself ablaze on Saturday night at a large rally in Seoul calling for Park to resign. In his notebook, the man called Park a “traitor” over her government’s agreement with Japan, police said.

The man was said to be in critical condition.

The Japanese prime minister also said he will call on US president-elect Donald Trump to reduce the burden that Okinawa Prefecture bears in hosting the bulk of US military facilities in Japan, next time he meets him.

In his election campaign, Trump pledged to make allies contribute more to the costs related to hosting US military forces abroad.

Local protests in Okinawa against US military bases there increased recently after the crash-landing of an Osprey aircraft in nearby waters.

Sources familiar with bilateral relations have said Abe and Trump are arranging a meeting in the United States in late January, shortly after Trump’s inauguration. In November, Abe was the first world leader to meet face-to-face with Trump following his victory over Hillary Clinton.

Additional reporting by Associated Press