2 S. Korean 'comfort women' cancel meet with Osaka mayor over war brothel remarks

OSAKA (REUTERS) - Two elderly South Korean women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels abruptly cancelled a meeting with Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto after he refused to withdraw remarks asserting the brothel system was "necessary" at the time.

Mr Hashimoto sparked a firestorm of criticism at home and abroad when he said last week that the military brothels had been needed, and Japan has been unfairly singled out for wartime practices common among other countries' militaries.

Octogenarians Kim Bok-dong and Kil Won-ok said they had hoped the planned meeting would persuade Mr Hashimoto, who heads the small right-leaning Japan Restoration Party, to change his mind but had heard that he planned to manipulate them by an"apology performance" in front of media.

"Indescribably heart-wrenching reality and history of the victims cannot be traded with his apology performance and sweet talk," the women said in a statement provided by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. "We do not want to kill ourselves twice," they said.

"If he truly feels sorry to us and regretful, he must take back his criminal comments and make a formal apology. He should hold himself responsible for his wrongdoing and retire from politics."

Mr Hashimoto, who has continued to defend his remarks, also said their was no evidence the Japanese military directly abducted "comfort women", as they are euphemistically known in Japan, to work in the brothels before and during World War Two.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe caused controversy during his first term in 2006-2007 by saying there was no proof that Japan's military had kidnapped women - mostly Asian and many Korean - to work in the brothels. Such sentiments are common among Japanese ultra-conservatives.

But Mr Abe has sought to distance himself from Mr Hashimoto's remarks and his government has drawn back from early signals that it might revise a landmark 1993 government statement acknowledging military involvement in coercing the women, and apologising to them.

The issue has often frayed relations between Tokyo and Seoul. Japan says the matter of compensation for the women was settled under a 1965 treaty establishing diplomatic ties.

In 1995, Japan set up a fund to make payments to the women from private contributions, but South Korea says that was not official and therefore insufficient.