South Korea allows new 'comfort women' statue

A statue commemorating Korean "comfort women" is pictured at a Sydney church.
A statue commemorating Korean "comfort women" is pictured at a Sydney church. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - The southern South Korean port of Busan said on Friday (Dec 30) it would allow activists to place a statue symbolising victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery outside the city's Japanese consulate.

The municipal authorities had previously removed the "comfort woman" statue, but changed track after Japan's hawkish defence minister offered prayers at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo.

Tomomi Inada's visit on Thursday to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead - but also senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes - swiftly drew flack from China and South Korea.

Activists had first placed their statue outside the consulate on Wednesday - marking their opposition to a South Korea-Japan agreement reached a year ago to finally resolve the comfort women issue.

Under the 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.

Critics said the deal did not go far enough in holding Japan responsible for its wartime abuses.

The statue - a copy of one that sits across the road from the Japanese embassy in Seoul - was swiftly removed from outside the Busan consulate by the authorities.

But after Inada's visit stoked an outpouring of public anger, they said it would be returned to the activists.

"We won't stop the civic group from setting up the statue there if they wish to do so," Yonhap news agency quoted local official Park Sam Seok as saying.

The statue in Seoul - a bronze of a young, seated woman with a small bird on her shoulder - has proved an extremely potent and popular symbol.

Japan says it should have been removed after the comfort-women accord was signed, but Seoul argued it had only agreed to look into the possibility of moving it.

For the past year, activists have maintained a 24-hour vigil to prevent the statue being taken away.

More than two dozen similar monuments have been erected around South Korea, and another dozen or so abroad in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.