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Wednesday, September 20, 2000, updated at 09:10(GMT+8)

Japan Rejects Lawsuit by WWII Sex Slaves

Japan on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed in the United States by 15 World War II "comfort women" who survived Japanese sex slave camps.

"We are aware of the lawsuit," said a foreign ministry official.

"But the Japanese government stance is that all issues related to compensation were already settled by post-war treaties," he said, declining to be named.

The women from South Korea, China, the Philippines and Taiwan filed the case Monday with the Washington DC District Court, seeking compensation and an official apology from the Japanese government.

They are among some 200,000 women who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese Imperial armed forces between 1932 and 1945, according to the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues.

It was the first time that former sex slaves, commonly known as "comfort women," have sought justice in US courts, and the first time Japan has been named as a defendant, according to the WCCWI.

But Japan had already settled war compensation in post-war treaties including the 1951 San Francisco peace settlement with the Allies, the foreign ministry official argued.

It also reached bilateral agreements with Asian countries including China in which they renounced demands for reparations.

"It is up to the plaintiffs to file suit, but as I said compensation issues were already settled," the official said.

Japan's government denies that it has abandoned its responsibilities towards the comfort women.

In 1995 it set up the Asian Women's Fund, which has so far paid out two million yen (US$18,000) in "atonement money" to each of 170 former sex slaves and delivered a letter of apology from the prime minister.

Elderly South Korean and Taiwanese comfort women have received an additional three million yen each for medical and welfare purposes, while Filipinos received 1.2 million yen.

But Kohken Tsuchiya, a human-rights lawyer who is advising victims of Japanese germ warfare experiments on human guinea-pigs in China, said the fund was a cover for Japan's unwillingness to apologize properly.

"Through the fund, the government is evading its responsibility to officially apologize for its war-time conduct," Tsuchiya told AFP.

"The lawsuit in Washington is yet another result of Japan's reluctance to apologize and it should create international pressure on Japan to make an apology."

Six of the plaintiffs are from South Korea, four from China, four from the Philippines and one is from Taiwan.

Seoul resident Hwang Geum-Joo, 78, said she was circulated among various "comfort stations" in China for five years from 1941, when she was 19 years old, and raped by 30 to 40 Japanese soldiers a day.

"Many of the women became so sick that they had yellow pus from their pubic hair to their belly buttons, and their faces turned yellow as well," the suit said.

"Women who got sick three times were taken away by the soldiers and never returned."

Four Chinese Americans and five Chinese nationals last month sued Japanese conglomerates Mitsubishi and Mitsui in Los Angeles, claiming the companies enslaved thousands of Chinese citizens during World War II.

Former Allied prisoners of war are also fighting for compensation after being tortured, starved and worked nearly to death by the Japanese army.

But no Japanese court has supported their reparation claims, citing the 1951 peace settlement.

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Japan on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed in the United States by 15 World War II "comfort women" who survived Japanese sex slave camps.

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