SEOUL, March 1 (UPI) -- Japan needs to soon redress the "humanitarian matter" of Korean women forced into sexual slavery during World War II, South Korean President said Thursday.
President Lee Myung-bak renewed his appeal on the long-standing emotional issue and an irritant in South Korea-Japan relations during a speech at a commemoration of the 1919 Korean uprising against Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea says up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual servitude as "comfort women" at front-line Japanese brothels during World War II and South Korea has been insisting Japan compensate the women still alive.
"Genuine courage and wisdom are necessary more than anything else if the two countries are to work closely together as genuine partners," Yonhap News Agency quoted Lee as saying.
"In particular, the issue of military comfort women is a humanitarian matter that should be resolved at an early date, among various pending issues," the South Korean leader said.
He was quoted as saying the issue is becoming increasingly urgent as most victims, who "have lived with painful scars on their hearts for their entire lives," are well over 80 and may die before they receive compensation or an apology from Japan.
Yonhap said only 63 former of those woman are currently alive.
The report said during the harsh Japanese colonial rule, Koreans were banned from using their own language at schools and forced to adopt Japanese names. It said thousands of Koreans were also sent into forced labor.
Yonhap says Japan refuses to compensate the victims, saying all issues relating to the colonial period were settled in a package deal in 1965 when the two countries normalized diplomatic relations.