Moon Orders More Steps to Resolve Sex-Slave Dispute With Japan

(Bloomberg) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered more steps to resolve a dispute with Japan over sex slaves in World War II, calling a 2015 agreement reached under his predecessor faulty in “procedure and content.”

Moon’s statement on Thursday called for a resolution “with a focus on the victims,” taking into account a five-month review that concluded this week. It didn’t say whether he was scrapping the previous deal, which the two countries at the time had called “irreversible.”

“Despite the burden that the agreement is an official promise between the two countries confirmed by the leaders, I have to make it clear again as the president and with my people that the issue of comfort women can’t be resolved with this agreement,” Moon said.

The statement is likely to increase tensions between the U.S. allies at a time when the Trump administration is weighing military action to stop North Korea from threatening the U.S. with a nuclear bomb. Japan on Wednesday reacted angrily after the South Korean panel found faults with the 2015 agreement.

“If the South Korean government tries to change an agreement that is already being put into practice based on this report, relations between Japan and South Korea will become unmanageable,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”

In December 2015, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a landmark apology to South Korean “comfort women,” with his government agreeing to provide 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) to a fund for compensating victims.

Historians estimate anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 women -- many of them Korean -- served in Japan’s military brothels. Japan had apologized in 1993 and set up a compensation fund that was rejected by some victims because it was privately funded.

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