SEOUL • A South Korean court ruled yesterday that Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries should pay compensation to former wartime slave workers.
The district court in the southern city of Gwangju ruled that the company should pay 120 million won (S$145,000) in compensation to Ms Kim Young Ok, 85, and 3.25 million won to a relative of late victim Choe Jeong Rye, activists and reports said.
Mitsubishi said that it would appeal. It is the second such ruling in four years.
The Korean peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945, when Koreans were banned from using their own language in schools and forced to adopt Japanese names. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were forcibly recruited as front-line troops, slave workers and wartime sex slaves known as comfort women.
Issues of history still divide the neighbours - both allies of the United States - and complicate their relationship, even as they both face threats from nuclear-armed North Korea.
"We welcome this ruling. This is another court victory for the victims and their relatives," said Mr Lee Kuk Un, who leads a group of activists working for former slave workers.
The victims, both in their teens at the time, worked without pay at a Mitsubishi aircraft manufacturing plant in Nagoya in 1944 after being falsely promised they would be able to make money and study in Japan.
BIG STEP FORWARD
We welcome this ruling. This is another court victory for the victims and their relatives.
MR LEE KUK UN, who leads a group of activists working for former slave workers.
As soon as we obtain the verdict and confirm the details, we want to swiftly go ahead with procedures to appeal the court decision.
MITSUBISHI, saying that it had not yet seen the ruling, but would appeal.
Mitsubishi said in a statement that it had not yet seen the ruling, but that it would appeal.
"As soon as we obtain the verdict and confirm the details, we want to swiftly go ahead with procedures to appeal the court decision," the company said.
The case is one of 14 involving more than 1,000 South Korean victims that have been filed against Mitsubishi and several other Japanese firms seeking compensation for wartime slave labour.
The first such ruling came in 2013, when the Gwangju district court ruled in favour of five victims, ordering Mitsubishi to pay each of them sums amounting to as high as 150 million won.
An appeals court upheld the ruling but Mitsubishi has since taken the case to South Korea's Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on it.
Japan says colonial-era disputes were settled in 1965 when diplomatic ties were normalised and Tokyo gave Seoul some US$800 million in loans and economic aid. The money helped fund South Korea's dramatic industrialisation drive.
The South Korean court, however, ruled that it would be difficult to see the 1965 treaty as covering individual rights to damages, ordering the Japanese company to pay compensation to the victims.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA