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Politics

South Korean public remains split on settlement

Civic groups supporting the "comfort women" have criticized the accord.

SEOUL -- Public opinion is divided in South Korea over the accord with Japan aimed at resolving the wartime "comfort women" issue, with victims and support groups denouncing the agreement as too soft while academics and the media voice their support.

     Kim Bok-dong, a former comfort woman, criticized the deal Tuesday as not explicitly acknowledging Japan's legal responsibility. She demanded that Japan offer a proper apology in order to restore the victims' honor.

     The women were scorned as prostitutes in South Korea after the war. They think that such misconceptions will be dispelled only when Japan admits it took them by force and officially apologizes.

     But Kookmin University professor Lee Won-deog threw his support behind the agreement that day at a forum hosted by the Korea National Diplomatic Academy. He argued that Tokyo essentially admitted its legal responsibility by allocating government funds to support the former comfort women. Lee said the public should respect the deal as long as it's at an acceptable level, even if it's not perfect.

    Most experts at the forum generally supported the deal, even if they did not agree with all of its parts. That sentiment is shared by South Korean media.

     The public response has also been lukewarm. A year-end survey published Tuesday by South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo found that 53.7% of respondents were unhappy with the talks while just 35.6% were satisfied.

     "The comfort women issue should be resolved at a level that is acceptable to all the Korean people," South Korean President Park Geun-hye said at a November summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Some say the public backlash was harsher than Park had expected, worsened by heightened hopes ahead of the accord.

     Park expressed her continued commitment to fully resolving the issue at a cabinet meeting Tuesday. She stressed that her administration put every effort into a challenge her predecessors failed to address.

     The concern now is whether the statue of a young girl in front of the Japanese Embassy here will be relocated according to Japanese wishes. Divided opinions could hamper progress there, which in turn could delay the delivery of 1 billion yen ($8.32 million) Japan has pledged to a new fund supporting former comfort women.

     South Korea's Foreign Affairs Ministry said Tuesday the government will publish a white paper on the comfort women issue as planned. Depending on its content and whether it is translated into other languages, the report could be seen as in violation of the agreement, which bars both sides from criticizing each other over the issue in the international community.

     "We are not aware of the contents or other details" of the white paper, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Tuesday. "We believe the South Korean government will react appropriately."

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