[photo] The funeral procession of Kang Duk-kyong, a former comfort woman who died Feb. 2 at 68 pass by in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul which is shielded by riot police.
As Korea observes the 78th anniversary of the independence movement against Japanese colonial rule, a television special will spotlight the issue of women who were forced into Japanese military brothels during World War II. While the war ended 52 years ago, this tragic episode remains a thorny issue between Korea and Japan.
As many as 200,000 Asian women, mostly Korean, were reportedly taken to Japan, China, Southeast Asia and several Pacific islands which the Japanese had invaded. Today in Korea, only 158 women survive, ranging in age from their late 60s and 70s. Tonight at 10:55 p.m., SBS will broadcast a live two-hour program entitled "Testimony of 158 Comfort Women for the Japanese Army.'' "The program is designed to stir up public interest in the largely forgotten victims of the Japanese colonial period,'' said Im Lip, a producer of the program.
"Testimony'' is being aired at a time when Japanese compensation payments from a private fund to some Korean comfort women triggered an uproar here. In partnership with victims in other Asian countries, Korea has demanded the Japanese government concede that the women were forced to work in the brothels and offer state compensation.
Japan, however, has refused to make direct government payments, apparently out of fear that claims will pour in from numerous victims of wartime atrocities. The government instead created in 1995 a nominally private Asian Women's Fund to solicit donations and make payments. Since last year, the fund has made efforts to persuade the Asian women to accept the money, but Korean victims had refused the payments, maintaining their original stand.
But Tokyo's recent announcement that seven of the Korean comfort women accepted payments of more than 30 million won each in January upset many Koreans. "The dealings were conducted on a clandestine and individual basis. We still cannot confirm who received the money,'' said Shin Hye-soo, a leader of Chongdaehyop, or the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, a Korean advocacy group for the women.
She said that taking money from the private fund is tantamount to accepting the Japanese government's argument that the women worked voluntarily at brothels run by private enterprises (not by the government to make money. "But from a practical point of view, we could not blame them. Most of the comfort women are living in poverty and suffering from illnesses. Moreover, they don't have much time to live. The money must have been an irresistible temptation to them,'' she said.
Prompted by this development, Chongdaehyop recently decided to establish its own fund to support the women financially in alliance with other sympathetic civic organizations. The fund aims to raise about 3 billion won, but has collected only 200 million won so far. SBS's Lim says that he hopes the televised special will boost to the fund-raising campaign.
Co-hosted by Song Ji-hun and Um Aeng-ran, the program will be divided into two parts. The first part will feature the testimony of a former comfort woman who was taken into a brothel in China at the age of 14 and spent two years there. The second part will pay tribute to Kang Duk-kyong, another former comfort woman, who died at the age of 68 in early February.
Kang had lived with other comfort women in the House of Sharing, a house sponsored by a Buddhist organization, and developed skills as a painter there. Over the past several years, she painted pictures dealing with her painful past.