US lawmakers press Japan on 'comfort women'

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Two US lawmakers on Wednesday urged Japan to distance itself clearly from an outspoken politician who said that "comfort women" forced to provide sex during World War II were a military necessity.

In comments that prompted outrage in South Korea and China, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said that World War II soldiers who faced death needed to relax and suggested that US troops in modern-day Japan make use of the sex industry.

Representative Mike Honda, who spearheaded a 2007 House resolution that took Japan to task on the issue, called Mayor Hashimoto's remarks "repulsive" and said that comfort women suffered "horrific" physical and psychological scars.

Mr Honda, who was detained as a child during World War II due to his Japanese ancestry, said he believed that "reconciliation through appropriate government action admitting error is the only resolution likely to be long-lasting". Representative Steve Israel said he was "disgusted" and that Japanese officials should offer apologies to ageing former comfort women instead of "abhorrent" explanations.

"I strongly condemn Mayor Hashimoto's remarks and continue to urge the Japanese government to offer a formal acknowledgement and apology for the atrocities committed by its Imperial Armed Forces during World War II," Mr Israel said.

Historians say about 200,000 "comfort women" from Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere were drafted into Japanese army brothels.

In a 1993 statement, Japan offered "sincere apologies" to comfort women.

Two years later, Japan issued a broader apology expressing "deep remorse" for war suffering.

The 1993 statement remains a sore point for nationalists who contend that Japanese authorities did not directly force comfort women into sex and that the system was set up to prevent rape of random women.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, known for his conservative views on history, did not comment directly on Mayor Hashimoto's remarks but said that Japan shared the pain of survivors and stood by past statements.

A left-leaning Japanese government in 1995 set up a fund to compensate former comfort women. But few survivors in South Korea accepted because the money came from private donors instead of the government.

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