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September 25, 2017

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South Korea endorses meeting with North over 'comfort women' issue

SEOUL -- South Korea on Thursday formally approved a request from women rights activists, including one "comfort woman," to meet North Korean counterparts at a conference on Japan's wartime use of sex slaves.

The Unification Ministry said a 24-member South Korean delegation would participate in the three-day conference to be held in China's northeastern city of Shenyang from Friday.

The delegation includes Gil Won-ok, 86, who is one of 55 surviving South Koreans who were forced to work in brothels for Japanese troops during World War II.

It will be led by Yoon Mi-hyang who runs an organization supporting former comfort women.

North Korea will send 10 people to Shenyang, a spokeswoman for Yoon's office said.

"We estimate there are less than 50 former sex slaves living in North Korea, but they will not come for the conference this time," she said.

The women from the two Koreas had met at a conference in Seoul in 2007.

A second gathering had been scheduled for 2010 in Pyongyang, but South Korea cancelled as a result of rising military tensions.

South Koreans are required by law to acquire prior government approval for contact with North Koreans.

The conference comes as relations between Tokyo and Seoul are at their worst in years, mired in emotive disputes linked to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule.

Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan, were forced to work in Japanese army brothels.

Japan has acknowledged official complicity in the coercion of women into sex slavery.

However, some right-wing figures insist there was no official involvement by the state or the military.

Japanese politicians express exasperation at the repeated requests for contrition, pointing to numerous apologies as well as a 1965 agreement that normalized relations and included a large payment to Seoul.

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