Ex-Japanese PM pushes for comfort women deal

JEJU (South Korea) • Former Japanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama urged Seoul and Tokyo to press forward with a landmark comfort women deal reached late last year.

Speaking at the annual Jeju Forum yesterday, he called on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to issue apology letters to Korean women coerced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.

"I hope that the comfort women deal will be fully implemented without fail, and then the two countries can move towards a path of reconciliation," he said, referring to the current stalemate between the two sides over different interpretations of the deal.

Mr Murayama, who issued a landmark apology for the war while he was in office in 1995, was among several dignitaries who spoke at the three-day forum, which drew more than 4,000 participants from over 50 countries this year.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, in his speech, urged North Korea to cease further provocations and "return to full compliance with international obligations".

He said Pyongyang's recent nuclear and missile tests posed a "great challenge" to the region.

Mr Ban also said Asian countries involved in territorial or maritime disputes need to work towards a peaceful resolution, "in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the UN Charter".

He said: "Asia must resolve longstanding differences. Asian countries must rise above conflicting interpretations of history. By squarely and humbly addressing the unfortunate, past historical issues, they can focus on the future."

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, in his remarks, condemned war as a means to ending conflicts. Citing Malaysia's resolved territorial disputes with Thailand and Singapore, he said leaders should seek peaceful ways, including negotiation and arbitration, to settle conflicts.

Three other former prime ministers - Mr Han Seung Soo from South Korea, Mr Jim Bolger from New Zealand and Mr Enrico Letta from Italy - also attended this year's forum, which has as its theme "Asia's new order and cooperative leadership".

Chang May Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-Japanese PM pushes for comfort women deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe