S Korea, Japan hold 'comfort women' talks

  • 11/11/2015
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) talks with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (Reuters)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) talks with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (Reuters)

South Korea and Japan have discussed their long-running dispute over Korean women forced into wartime sexual slavery – the first such talks since their leaders vowed to push for a mutually acceptable settlement.

The meeting between senior foreign ministry officials from both sides followed last week's summit in Seoul between South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"It's difficult to go into details, but it can be said that we're moving one step at a time towards our goal," the South's Yonhap news agency quoted a government official as saying after the talks.

"We have agreed to continue talks on areas where differences exist," the unnamed official said.

South Korea is demanding a formal apology and compensation for the Korean women forced to serve as sex slaves in Japanese military army brothels during World War II.

Japan maintains that the dispute was settled in a 1965 normalisation agreement, which saw Tokyo make a total payment of US$800 million in grants or loans to its former colony.

The two sides have now held 10 rounds of talks on the issue since April last year – with no tangible progress.

Wednesday's meeting (local time) was in the same framework, but was closely monitored for any signs that the Park-Abe summit had shifted the discussion lines.

In what was their first one-on-one meeting, the two leaders had vowed to speed up consultations to resolve the dispute, which Park called the "biggest stumbling block" to normalised ties.

Presiding over a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Park had again stressed that the comfort women issue should be settled "as early as possible".

Mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia and other Asian nations, were forced into sexual slavery during the war.

South Korea has only 47 surviving comfort women – all of them in advanced old age.