US lawmakers visit 'comfort women' memorial

NEW YORK (AFP) - United States (US) lawmakers paid tribute on Friday at the country's first memorial to "comfort women" forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers in World War II, voicing concern at efforts to "whitewash" history.

To Japanese officials' consternation, Palisades Park, New Jersey - a New York suburb with a large Korean American community - in 2010 set up a small monument to remember the estimated 200,000 former comfort women.

Representative Mike Honda, who led a 2007 House resolution that criticised Japan on comfort women, and local Representative Bill Pascrell took part in a service at the memorial that calls for sexual slavery never to be repeated.

"As an educator for over 30 years, it deeply offends me that an important part of world history is being whitewashed and forgotten," said Mr Honda, who was detained as a child during World War II due to his Japanese ancestry.

"Reconciliation is something our generation should rightfully be calling for in order to promote the growth of a peaceful global society," he said.

The outspoken mayor of Osaka, Mr Toru Hashimoto, triggered outrage at home and abroad by suggesting in May that battle-stressed soldiers in World War II needed the services of comfort women.

Japan's government distanced itself from Mr Hashimoto, who later retracted his remarks that included a call on US soldiers based in Okinawa to make use of the sex industry.

The issue of comfort women remains politically charged between Japan and South Korea, where some aging former comfort women regularly demonstrate against Tokyo.

Japan apologised in 1993 to former comfort women and a left-leaning government later set up a compensation fund. But few survivors in South Korea accepted because the money came from private donors instead of the government.