SEOUL • South Korea's foreign minister said yesterday there was nothing wrong with erecting a statue in memory of women forced to work in Japanese brothels in World War II, but its location outside a Japanese consulate was inappropriate.
The statue of the young "comfort woman" in the southern city of Busan has rekindled a feud over wartime history between South Korea and its past colonial ruler and prompted Japan to temporarily recall its ambassador.
The term "comfort women" is a euphemism for girls and women from South Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere forced to work in Japanese military brothels. South Korean activists estimate that there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean victims.
"The issue of a girl statue in Busan is unfortunate," Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se told lawmakers, referring to the southern city. "Our government is not against the instalment of a girl statue... but I think we need to pool our wisdom on the... location." He did not say if the statue would be moved.
The statue, which depicts a barefoot girl sitting in a chair, was erected near the Japanese consulate at the end of last year.
Japan said the statue violated an agreement to resolve the issue.
The plight of the women has marred relations for decades but the governments of Mr Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye reached an agreement in late 2015 to finally resolve it.
Under that accord, which both countries described as "final and irreversible", Japan offered an apology and a one-billion-yen (S$12.4 million) payment to surviving Korean comfort women.
The statue in Busan was initially removed by the local authorities after South Korean activists placed it in front of the Japanese consulate. But after the Japanese defence minister paid homage at Yasukuni Shrine last month, a spot where senior convicted war criminals are honoured, Seoul allowed the activists to put back the statue.
South Korea is expected to have a new administration following the impeachment of Ms Park but Mr Abe last week demanded that the accord be honoured.
However, South Korean politicians, including expected presidential contenders, have called for a renegotiation of the December 2015 agreement.
Critics of the accord say the deal did not go far enough in holding Japan responsible for wartime abuses during its 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE