South Korea to build museum for ‘comfort women’ wartime sex slaves

South Korea is to build a museum in Seoul in memory of the ‘comfort women’ wartime sex slaves.

The new museum is reigniting a fierce dispute between South Korea and Japan surrounding ‘comfort women’ says a report in The Straits Times.

The plight of ‘comfort women’ has been a highly emotional issue for decades, reports the newspaper. Mainstream historians report that up to 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops during World War II. The majority of the women came from Korea. However they were also brought from other parts of Asia including China and worked at Japanese army brothels during the 1939-1945 conflict.

South Korea’s new gender equality minister Chung Hyun-Back announced the museum. “We are planning to build a ‘comfort women’ museum in Seoul,” she said. She made the announcement at a shelter for survivors, who now number just 38.

The ‘House of Sharing’ is located in a rural area south of Seoul. It already has a memorial hall however Chung said the country needed a museum in the capital with better public access. The minister did not elaborate on when it will open or what kind of materials it will display.

Japan has maintained that there is a lack of documentary proof that the women were forced to work in the brothels.

However, in late 2015, Seoul and Tokyo reached what they described as a “final and irreversible” agreement. Japan offered an apology and a one-billion yen (US$8.6 billion) payment to the South Korean survivors.

However critics of the accord maintained that the deal did not go far enough in holding Japan legally responsible for wartime abuses during its 1910-45 rule over the peninsula, and disputes have raged ever since.

Last week South Korean researchers unearthed what they described as rare footage of the sex slaves taken during the war. The 18 seconds of film show a group of seven women standing in front of a hotel in Songshan, China. The hotel was used as a Japanese military brothel. The film was discovered at the US national archive. It was thought to have been taken in 1944.

The women were not named. However, according to researchers at the Seoul National University, some of them were identified as the same women featured in another rare photo showing Korean comfort women.

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