UNITED NATIONS, New York: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the leaders of South Korea and Japan Monday for settling a dispute over “comfort women” forced to work in Japanese brothels during World War II.
Ban welcomed the agreement announced following talks between the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers in Seoul and expressed hope it will “contribute to improving the bilateral relationship.”
“He appreciates President Park Geun-Hye of the Republic of Korea and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan for their leadership and vision for the betterment of the relationship between the two countries,” said a statement from Ban’s spokesman.
Under the agreement, Japan apologized and offered a one-billion yen ($8.3 million) payment to the Korean women who were forced to work as sex slaves.
A former South Korean foreign minister, Ban stressed that countries in northeast Asia must build relationships “based on the recognition of history.”
The fate of the 46 surviving “comfort women” is an emotional issue in South Korea, fueling much of the distrust that has marred relations with its former colonial ruler for decades.
Abe told reporters in Tokyo after speaking by phone with Park that the two countries “will welcome a new era.”
Up to 200,000 women, many of them Korean, are estimated to have been sexually enslaved by Japan during World War II.
Japan has long maintained that the dispute was settled in a 1965 agreement, which saw Tokyo establish diplomatic ties and make a payment of $800 million in grants or loans to Korea, which it ruled from 1910-1945.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the one-trillion-won payment was not compensation but aimed at restoring the women’s dignity.