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Japan mulls revision of 'comfort women' apology

TOKYO -- Japan will consider revising an apology for its wartime system of sex slavery, a top official said Monday, a move that will draw fury in South Korea and beyond if the historic statement is watered down.

Evidence given by “comfort women” — a euphemism for those forced to work in military brothels — that forms the basis of the 1993 Kono Statement, is to be re-examined, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday.

The move is the latest in a series of statements and gaffes from senior officials around Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that are being interpreted as questioning accepted wisdom on Japan's brutal wartime behavior in East Asia.

These have included the assertion by a member of NHK's board of governors, a man appointed by Abe, that the 1937 “Rape of Nanking,” when Japanese forces committed mass rape and murder following the capture of the city, had been fabricated for propaganda purposes. No mainstream historian holds this view.

“The testimonies of comfort women were taken on the premise of their being closed-door sessions. The government will consider whether there can be a revision while preserving” the confidence in which they were given, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Suga's comment came after a weekend opinion poll, jointly conducted by the nationalistic Sankei Shimbun daily and Fuji TV, in which 59 percent of respondents said the apology should be revised.

The issue was inflamed when Katsuto Momii, the new head of Japan's national broadcaster NHK, said sex slavery was common in many militaries and was only wrong when judged against modern morality.

Respected historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan, were forced to serve as sex slaves in Japanese army brothels.

However, a minority of right-wing Japanese insist there was no official involvement by the state or the military and say the women were common prostitutes.

In 1993, after hearing testimony from 16 Korean women, a statement issued in the name of then-chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged official complicity in the coercion of women into sex slavery.

It offered “sincere apologies and remorse” to the women and vowed to face the historical facts squarely.

But repeated wavering on the issue among senior right-wing politicians has contributed to a feeling in South Korea that Japan is in denial and is not sufficiently remorseful.

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