South Korea leader Park meets Tokyo governor amid diplomatic rift

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean President Park Geun Hye held a rare meeting with a Japanese politician Friday as she received visiting Tokyo governor Yoichi Masuzoe despite a virtual freeze in diplomatic ties.

Masuzoe made a courtesy call at the presidential Blue House, which Park used to reiterate Seoul's demand that Tokyo make proper redress for grievances related to its 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

In particular she highlighted the plight of so-called "comfort women" forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, the Blue House said.

"The issue of comfort women is not merely a bilateral one, but an issue related with general human rights," Park was quoted as saying.

Around 200,000 women, mainly from Korea but also China, Taiwan, Indonesia and other Asian countries, were forcibly recruited into the wartime brothels.

While mainstream Japanese opinion holds that the wartime government was culpable, some right-wing politicians including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continue to cast doubt, claiming the brothels were staffed by professional prostitutes.

The equivocation is a huge irritation in Tokyo's relations with East Asia and with South Korea in particular.

"Improper statements by politicians, especially over historical issues, add to the difficulties in bilateral relations," Park told Masuzoe.

The meeting came a day after the UN Human Rights Committee called on Japan to accept full blame for pressing the comfort women into sexual slavery, and to agree to an independent inquiry into the issue.

Since taking office 18 months ago, Park has barely met any Japanese officials.

US President Barack Obama brokered a trilateral summit with Park and Abe in March, but the meeting failed to mend the diplomatic rift between Washington's two key military allies in Asia.

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