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S. Korea party proposes to settle wartime labor dispute with Japan

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- The main opposition party in South Korea said Monday it has submitted to parliament a bill aimed at resolving a dispute stemming from South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to compensate Korean plaintiffs over wartime labor.

    Ties between Japan and South Korea have sunk to their lowest level in decades over the rulings and subsequent moves by plaintiffs to have corporate assets seized by the court, with the feud now spilling into the economic area.

    It is the first time for legislation seeking solution to the dispute to have been introduced to the South Korean parliament since the country's Supreme Court ordered two Japanese firms in October and November last year to compensate groups of Koreans.

    The bill seeks to create a fund with money from the governments and companies of both countries to pay damages to the plaintiffs.

    There is little likelihood that the Japanese government would agree to a settlement that would require financial contribution from the Japanese side, given its position.

    Japan maintains that the issue of compensation stemming from its colonization of the Korean Peninsula was settled under a 1965 accord finally and completely. Under the accord, Japan provided South Korea with $500 million in the name of "economic cooperation."

    Hong Il Pyo, a member of the conservative opposition party, admitted Monday that the Japanese government and Japanese firms are unlikely to agree immediately to provide funds even if the legislation is enacted.

    Hong indicated that the success of the proposal depends on consultations between the South Korean and Japanese governments.

    The bill has a provision that calls on the South Korean government to exhaust diplomatic efforts, such as by seeking cooperation from the Japanese government and Japanese companies.

    As background information, the bill also notes that some lawmakers from Japan and South Korea agreed in discussions to push for the envisioned solution and work to resolve the diplomatic spat.

    Some experts on the issue have for some time advocated a solution involving financial contribution from governments and companies of both countries. They have dubbed it a "two-plus-two" plan.

    Earlier in June, South Korea proposed to Japan that Japanese and South Korean companies provide the plaintiffs with funds equal in value to the damages awarded by South Korean courts.

    The proposal, which included monetary contribution from South Korean companies that benefited financially from the 1965 accord, was rebuffed by Japan, on the same basis that the accord has settled the issue of compensation claims from former laborers.

    In ordering compensation from two Japanese companies, the Supreme Court said the accord did not nullify the right of victims of forced mobilization under Japan's "illegal" 1910-1945 colonial rule to seek compensation.

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