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“Comfort women” statue in Seoul designated as public facility

SEOUL — A local government in Seoul said Thursday it has designated a “comfort women” statue in front of the Japanese Embassy as a public sculpture, in a move likely to upset Tokyo as official approval will now be required for its removal.


Tokyo has repeatedly demanded the removal of the statue, erected in 2011 to symbolize Korean women forced into wartime brothels for the Japanese military, but such a move can now only be carried out following approval by a committee of Jong-no district, where the embassy is located.


The statue and a similar one near the Japanese Consulate General in Busan have been a source of diplomatic friction between South Korea and Japan.


In 2015, the two countries reached a deal to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the decades-old “comfort women” issue, with Japan disbursing 1 billion yen ($9.1 million) last year to a South Korean fund to provide support to the women and their families.


Under the accord, South Korea promised it “will strive to solve,” in consultation with civil society organizations, Japan’s objections to the statue in front of the embassy.


But the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae In, who took office in May, argues that “the majority of the country’s public do not approve of the comfort women agreement” on an emotional level.


Later Thursday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman reiterated his country’s stance that “efforts to keep the comfort women issue as a historical lesson, regardless of the bilateral deal with Japan, will be continued.”


At a press briefing, Noh Kyu Duk also said the South Korean government’s position on the comfort women, including the issue of the statues, will be worked out after a task force completes its review of the agreement with Japan.


Japan has demanded that South Korea remove the statues in Seoul and Busan in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which requires the receiving state to prevent any disturbance of the peace of a diplomatic mission or impairment of its dignity.

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