SEOUL, July 17 (UPI) -- South Korea is considering changing the English name used for Korean women who were forced into sexual acts with occupying Japanese soldiers during World War II.
The women, estimated by historians to number around 200,000, are known by Japanese military as "comfort women" but this could soon change, a report by South Korean news agency Yonhap said.
Their tragedy remains a sensitive political issue for Seoul and Tokyo as well as an emotive issue for the 61 women still alive and their families.
The comfort women were coerced into sexual servitude at front-line Japanese brothels, Yonhap said.
In a parliamentary session last week, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said his ministry was "willing to consider" changing the wording to "sex slaves" and would do so only after consultations with the victims.
Kim said the term "comfort women" was coined in the past by taking into account the victims' opinions, Yonhap reported.
But a foreign ministry official told Yonhap there is no plan to replace the Korean-language term for "comfort women."
South Korean politicians are grappling with appropriate wording in English for the women just as the two countries inch closer to signing their first military pact, despite the population's strong feelings about Japan stemming from its occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45.
A human rights group dedicated to the memory of comfort women said the political debate over a name change is missing the point.
"Those who spoke of changing the terminology proved that they did not listen to what the victims want," Yoo Mi-hyang, head of the activist group named the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, told Yonhap.
"All the government has to do is to receive a sincere apology from the Japanese government, not change the wording," Yoo said.
Seoul has been pushing Tokyo to sort out an apology and compensation for the surviving women partly to gain public support for the military pact that has incensed the ruling parties political opponents.
The main opposition Democratic United Party has been calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, claiming he was rushing into the military pact without proper consultation with the National Assembly and the public, a report by The Korea Times said.
"It is regrettable that President Lee Myung-bak is not yet ready to respond to our call for the dismissal of Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik," National Assembly Representative and DUP Chairman Lee Hae-chan said.
Lee threatened a non-confidence vote in the National Assembly but said "it would be better for President Lee to voluntarily dismiss Kim before the National Assembly takes action."
Earlier this month, Chosun Ilbo reported that U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton has said the term "comfort women" is wrong and that they should be referred to as "enforced sex slaves."
Chosun Ilbo said a diplomatic source in Seoul said Clinton was being briefed on the Japanese occupation of Korea and corrected a U.S. State Department official who referred to the victims as comfort women.
Also this month, a South Korean truck driver smashed into the main gate of the Japanese Embassy to protest what he believed was an insult to the comfort women by a Japanese man.
The man, a right-wing Japanese protester, had shown disrespect toward a comfort woman monument outside the Japanese Embassy by erecting beside the statue his placard concerning maritime territorial claims.