South Korea's foreign minister to visit Japan for the first time: Report

TOKYO (AFP) - South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se will visit Japan this weekend for the first time since taking office, Japanese media reported on Wednesday, as the two countries mark 50 years of diplomatic ties despite current strains.

Mr Yun will meet his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida on Sunday and they will discuss the issue of the "comfort women" who were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during World War II, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

The minister will also attend a ceremony at the South Korean embassy to celebrate half a century since relations between Tokyo and Seoul were normalised, the paper added. Previous reports have suggested Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may also attend.

An official at Japan's Foreign Ministry said they are in the process of coordinating a possible visit by Mr Yun, but that nothing had been confirmed.

Mr Yun and Mr Kishida held talks in March in Seoul, but Mr Yun has not been to Japan since coming to office in 2013, with ties between the two countries badly affected by rows over history and territory.

Mr Abe has made numerous overtures to South Korean President Park Geun Hye, offering to hold summits, but has been rebuffed since the two came to power in late 2012 and early 2013 respectively.

Ms Park has said there can be no meeting until Japan makes amends for its wartime system of sex slavery, which saw as many as 200,000 mostly South Korean women forced into servitude for Japan's Imperial military.

Japan maintains the issue was settled in the 1965 normalisation agreement, which saw Tokyo make large payments to Seoul. The Japanese government also issued a formal apology in 1993, which remains official policy.

There have been some discussions on the issue over the past 12 months, although both sides appear to have hardened their positions in recent years.

MS Park said during a recent interview with the Washington Post "there has been considerable progress on the issue of the comfort women" and the two countries are "in the final stage" of their negotiations.

"We can expect to look forward to a very meaningful 50th anniversary of the normalisation of our diplomatic ties," she said.

However, Mr Yun appeared to row back a little from that rosy assessment on Monday, telling reporters in the United States there needed to be more effort to resolve the issue, according to Jiji Press.

Japan and South Korea are also at odds over the ownership of the sparsely-populated Dokdo islets, which sit in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) and are controlled by Seoul. Tokyo claims them under the name Takeshima.