SEOUL (AFP) - Mr Tomiichi Murayama, the former Japanese prime minister known for his 1995 apology over wartime aggression, met on Tuesday with three South Korean "comfort women" who served as sex slaves to Japanese troops.
"Please stay healthy," the 89-year-old ex-premier told the women as he clasped their hands at an exhibition of art works by comfort women being held in the South Korean Parliament complex in Seoul.
One of the three women, Kang Ul-Chul, told Mr Murayama through an interpreter that the Japanese government should apologise properly to the former sex slaves and provide compensation.
They also presented him with one of the artworks, titled "Flower destroyed unbloomed".
Mr Murayama served as Japan's prime minister from 1994-96 and is best remembered for his 1995 speech in which he publicly apologised for Japanese atrocities during World War II.
Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula remains a hugely emotive issue in South Korea, which believes Japan has failed to live up to the spirit of the 1995 apology and not properly atoned for its past aggression.
Relations hit a new low in December when current prime minister Shinzo Abe visited a controversial war shrine which commemorates around 2.5 million Japanese war dead including several high-level war criminals.
Mr Murayama arrived on Tuesday for a three-day visit at the invitation of an opposition party.
He reportedly requested a meeting with President Park Geun Hye but was turned down on account of her "busy schedule".
Ms Park has made it clear she will not hold a summit with Mr Abe until the Japanese leader takes steps to address South Korea's historical grievances.