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Japan's `Atonement' to Former Sex Slaves Stirs Anger - New York Times

TOKYO, April 24 -- Facing calls to compensate the aging victims of its wartime sexual slavery, Japan set up the Asian Women's Fund in 1995. It was a significant concession from Japan, which has always asserted that postwar treaties absolved it of all individual claims from World War II.

But the fund only fueled anger in the very countries with which Japan had sought reconciliation.

By the time it closed as scheduled last month, only a fraction of the former sex slaves had accepted its money. Two Asian governments even offered money to discourage more women from taking Japan's.

Critics inside and outside Japan complained about the Japanese government's decision to set up the fund as a private one, making clear that the "atonement" payments came from citizens. They saw this as another tortured attempt by Tokyo to avoid taking full responsibility for one of the ugliest aspects of the war.

"It was not directly from the Japanese government; that is why I did not accept it," said Ellen van der Ploeg, 84, a Dutchwoman who was taken from a prisoner of war camp in Indonesia and forced to work in a Japanese military brothel for three months in 1944. "If you have made mistakes in life, you must have the courage to say, `I'm sorry, please forgive me.' But the Japanese government to this day has never taken full responsibility."

"If this were a pure government fund, I could have accepted it," Ms. van der Ploeg said in a telephone interview from Houten, the Netherlands. "Why should I accept money from private Japanese people? They were also victims during the war."

The Japanese government has held up the fund as one way it has tried to redress a past wrong, even as, in Washington, the House of Representatives is considering a resolution that would call on Japan's government to unequivocally acknowledge its role in the wartime sexual slavery, and apologize for it.

Of those former sex slaves -- known euphemistically here as comfort women -- who accepted money from the fund, most did so secretly to avoid criticism. Supporters of the women in the four places where women were compensated individually -- South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and the Netherlands -- became deeply divided over whether to accept the money.

Even those who favored accepting the money said the fund reflected the absence of moral clarity in Japan, an opinion that was reinforced in March, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied the Japanese military's role in coercing women into sexual slavery.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Wed Apr 25th, 2007 at 03:10:43 AM EST
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