Head of comfort women foundation by South Korean government to resign amid pressure

A file photo taken on Jan 6, 2016, of a statue of a teenage girl symbolising former "comfort women", who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
A file photo taken on Jan 6, 2016, of a statue of a teenage girl symbolising former "comfort women", who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The head of the foundation established by the South Korean government to assist former comfort women has expressed her intention to resign.

"The activities of the foundation will effectively end," a person related to the foundation told The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Ms Kim Tae Hyeon is chief of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation based in Seoul. The establishment of the foundation was based on an agreement reached at the end of 2015 between Japan and South Korea over the issue of comfort women.

While the Japanese government has continued to ask the South Korean government to steadily implement the agreement, the end of the foundation's activities would mean that the measures for all former comfort women that were a pillar of the agreement have failed to be fully implemented.

South Korean President Moon Jae In promised to renegotiate the agreement with Japan during his presidential campaign.

Dr Chung Hyun Back, who assumed the post of gender equality and family minister in charge of the comfort women issue, indicated a plan to examine the foundation's activity.

"The possibility cannot be excluded that the foundation will enter into procedures for dissolution based on (the result of) the examination by the government," Yonhap News Agency reported.

According to multiple sources related to the foundation, Ms Kim feels burdened by public opinion in South Korea, which is critical of the agreement with Japan and the foundation's activities.

At a meeting of the board of directors last Wednesday (July 19), she said she believes that she has fulfilled her role and expressed her intention to resign as chair.

The Japanese government has contributed 1 billion yen (S$12 million) to the foundation based on the agreement. The foundation was established in July 2016 and continued to ask for the former comfort women to accept the measures for about a year.

The foundation distributed about 100 million won (S$122,000) each to 36 out of 47 former comfort women who were alive at the time the agreement was reached. The original number was 46; one was added later.

The foundation plans to distribute about 20 million won to relatives and others of 199 former comfort women who died before the agreement was reached. According to Yonhap News Agency, 65 have received the money.

However, the former comfort women who live in facilities operated by assistance groups critical of the agreement have continued to reject the money.