April 17 (UPI) -- South Korea's foreign ministry is under fire from local activists for opposing a move to install a statue symbolizing Korean forced laborers outside the Japanese consulate in Busan.
Members of the Busan chapter of an activist group seeking compensation for compulsory wartime laborers slammed Seoul's diplomatic corps for not defending their decision to place the statue where it may be more visible to Japanese officials, CBS No Cut News reported Tuesday.
"Apology and compensation must come before diplomatic etiquette," a special committee of the activists said Tuesday during a press conference outside the Japanese consulate. "The foreign ministry should accept the wishes of the people and should not interfere with the establishment of a laborer statue that will go toward correcting the diplomatic tragedy of deep-rooted evils."
Earlier in the week, the foreign ministry had sent a letter to the activists, and to the city of Busan, that raised concerns of a diplomatic row with Japan.
Seoul and Tokyo have been at odds over the issue of Korean "comfort women" forced to serve in Japanese wartime brothels prior to 1945.
The South Korean government is disputing a bilateral agreement that would provide compensation to the victims, who have said the deal was made between former President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe without consultation.
"The government sees the possibility of a diplomatic issue arising, with the placement of a laborer statue outside a diplomatic mission, as a major concern," the foreign ministry said in a letter to the activists, according to Yonhap news agency.
The foreign ministry added it would be preferable if the activists installed the statue at the National Memorial Museum of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Occupation in Busan.
The issue of Korean forced laborers has been addressed in popular South Korean films like Battleship Island, released in 2017.
The film earned more than $47 million at the South Korean box office and is based on the true story of Korean workers who worked in dangerous conditions on Japan's Hashima Island.
The island was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015.