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Japanese lawmakers report on review of sex slave controversy

TOKYO -- Lawmakers met behind closed doors Friday to hear results of a probe into a study that was the basis of Japan's 1993 apology over its use of wartime sex slaves — a review that South Korea and China have slammed as an attempt to discredit historical evidence of such abuses.

The new investigation by an independent panel focused on how the study, which included interviews with former Korean victims, was conducted, not its findings. But any discussion of bitter World War II history is sensitive, especially when Japan's relations with its two closest neighbors are soured by territorial disputes.

The review was due to be released later Friday. In a routine briefing, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga reiterated Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pledge not to revise the 1993 apology, saying that evaluation of the historical evidence should be left up to historians and scholars.

“Japan's relations with South Korea are extremely important and we will try to explain this issue to gain understanding,” Suga said.

Historians say as many as 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were forced to provide sex to Japan's frontline soldiers. Japanese nationalists contend that women in wartime brothels were voluntary prostitutes, not sex slaves, and that Japan has been unfairly criticized for a practice they say is common in any country at war.

Abe himself has been criticized by South Korea and China for backpedaling from past Japanese apologies and acknowledgements of wartime atrocities

Japanese officials interviewed such women in 1993 at South Korea's request as part of a broader investigation that led to the apology by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, which acknowledged many women were forced into prostitution for Japan's wartime military.

A reversal of the apology would greatly worsen already-strained relations between Japan and South Korea.

Adding to the ire between the two countries, on Friday the South Korean navy conducted live-fire exercises in seas near islands that are claimed by both countries. Top Japanese officials protested the drills, but South Korean officials said the exercises were routine and rejected Tokyo's demands to cancel them.

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Police officers stand guard against possible attacks from protesters in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Friday, June 20. (AP)

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