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Ex-comfort woman becomes first to back Japan-S. Korea accord, but winning support not easy

SEOUL -- A former comfort woman has stated that she welcomes an accord between the Japanese and South Korean governments over the wartime comfort women issue -- the first former comfort woman to publicly do so after the bilateral agreement was made in December last year.

While the woman's announcement may mitigate opposition in South Korea against the Japan-South Korea agreement, there is still a long way to go in persuading groups supporting former comfort women to accept the accord.

The 87-year-old South Korean woman, whose name is being withheld by the Mainichi, said she would accept aid from a foundation to be set up by the South Korean government with a 1 billion yen fund injection from the Japanese government. She also said the Japan-South Korea agreement has settled the so-called comfort women issue.

Of the 42 surviving former comfort women registered with the South Korean government, this woman is the first to support the launch of the foundation and to say that the issue has been settled in front of the media.

The South Korean government set up a preparatory committee at the end of May, aiming launch the foundation by the end of July. Committee chairwoman Kim Tae-hyeon told a news conference after an inaugural meeting that the committee would continue trying to persuade former comfort women.

The 87-year-old woman said she told Kim that she supported the bilateral agreement when the chairwoman visited her in early June. In the meantime, a support group for former comfort women that calls itself in English "the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan" and has strong influence in South Korean society -- and sources related to "House of Sharing" -- a shared residence for surviving former comfort women -- have rejected the bilateral accord.

Facing strong resistance from these groups, the South Korean government has placed importance on winning understanding from the former comfort women themselves, working toward persuading those who do not directly receive support from these organizations.

Yu Myung-hwan, former South Korean minister for foreign affairs and trade, who is a member of the preparatory committee, told the Mainichi Shimbun in an interview on June 7 that winning understanding of the bilateral agreement from former comfort women will lead to support from the South Korean people. Yu said that if at least two-thirds of former comfort women join the foundation, it will be possible to negotiate with the council for comfort women.

Meanwhile, the council launched its own foundation to support former comfort women on June 9, and House of Sharing officials are refusing to meet with officials from the South Korean government.

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