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1st 'comfort women' statue installed in Taiwan

Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou attends a ceremony held in the southern Taiwan city of Tainan on Aug. 14, 2018, to unveil a bronze statue symbolizing women who were forced to work in Japan's wartime military brothels, the first such memorial erected in Taiwan. (Kyodo)

TAINAN, Taiwan (Kyodo) -- A bronze statue symbolizing women forced to work in wartime brothels for the Japanese military was unveiled Tuesday in the southern Taiwan city of Tainan, the first such memorial erected in the country.

The statue portrays a girl raising both hands to the sky to express her helpless resistance to suppression and silent protest, according to its creator.

Although installing the statue could cast a shadow over Japan-Taiwan ties, a Taiwanese government source said Taipei was not involved in any way.

But former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou of the main opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) spoke at the unveiling ceremony, and said the Japanese government should apologize and compensate the so-called "comfort women."

"Comfort women" is the euphemism created in Japan to refer to women, mainly from Asia, procured to work in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.

After saying "one or two Japanese politicians have in the past expressed remorse," Ma was evasive when asked what kind of apology he would deem satisfactory. He said the Japanese government needed to figure that out itself, and he was in no position to tell it what to do.

In Taiwan, 58 women have been recognized as "comfort women" forced to work in Japan's wartime military brothels. Only two are alive today.

In 1995, the Japanese government set up the Asian Women's Fund and offered atonement money and a letter of apology from the prime minister to victims from South Korea, Taiwan and other nations.

But many refused to accept the money on the grounds that the Japanese government's legal responsibility remained unaddressed.

The statue unveiling ceremony, attended by Ma and other KMT members, was organized by a local group established to memorialize the history of comfort women.

Group head Huang Shu-jen dismissed speculation her association is affiliated with the KMT, but admitted the KMT has provided assistance, including allowing it to erect the statue on a small empty lot next to the party's Tainan chapter office.

But Huang emphasized that the KMT did not fund her association or the statue.

She told the ceremony that the purpose of erecting the statue was to raise awareness of the issue and promote reconciliation.

Tainan city councilor and KMT member Hsieh Lung-chieh also emphasized that the purpose of erecting the statue is not to provoke hatred, but to promote peace and reconciliation.

"The statue," he also said, "will stay here forever."

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