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Gov't to ask Japan companies not to compensate S. Korean ex-forced laborers

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (left, Mainichi) and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (AP)

TOKYO -- The government of Japan intends to ask Japanese companies facing damages suits filed by former South Korean forced laborers not to pay compensation or settle out of court, according to people familiar with the arrangement.

The government policy came about in response to a South Korean Supreme Court order on Oct. 30. The court ordered Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate four former workers who said they were forced to toil at the companies' steel mills during Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

The ruling is at odds with Tokyo's stance that the issue of reparations between Japan and South Korea was settled "completely and finally" with a 1965 agreement with Seoul, and the South Korean government should be the body to respond to such redress demands from its nationals.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha over the phone on Oct. 31 that the South Korean government should take measures not to cause trouble to Japanese companies. The 1965 bilateral redress agreement, Kono said, has been the foundation of the relationship between the nations, and its erosion "could weaken ties between Japan and South Korea." He continued that Tokyo wants Seoul to "act firmly." Kang only responded that South Korean government officials are currently "discussing the matter."

The government will hold a briefing attended by foreign, trade and justice ministry officials shortly to explain its stance to some 70 companies that have been sued in South Korean courts by former workers. The Japanese government will support those companies in court.

Meanwhile, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party decided in an Oct. 31 intraparty meeting to submit a resolution that the Japanese government utilize the mediation panel stipulated in the redress agreement to settle the matter. Under the agreement, the three-member panel comprising representatives from Japan, South Korea and a third-party country will handle problems when diplomatic efforts to solve them have failed. It is an option Tokyo is considering. A senior member of the LDP's foreign affairs division said the party "wants to support the government" on this issue.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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