Authorities in South Korea’s southeastern port city of Busan on Friday removed a controversial statue from a site near the Japanese consulate, which had been erected by a civic group to symbolize Korean laborers forcibly taken to Japan during its colonial rule.
Dozens of labor union activists had earlier this year tried to install the bronze statue of an emaciated man in front of the consulate itself, beside an existing statue dedicated to Korean women who were forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels, but were prevented from doing so by police.
Police and consulate officials said the statue was forcibly removed Friday from a sidewalk in front of a nearby park.
The labor union activists and the government of the Dong-gu district, in which the consulate and park are located, had earlier agreed that the statue could be temporarily erected in the park.
But that idea was subsequently opposed by the Busan Metropolitan City government on grounds that the park is contiguous to the consulate. It suggested they consider another site.
Later Friday, the city government released a statement saying that it could not but remove the statue as there was no official process taken regarding its installment.
It said told the activists the for their goals to be achieved, “the government would like to publicize the issue and gather opinions from citizens upon where the statue should be located.”
Tokyo and Seoul have been clashing over compensation issues related to wartime labor, while the “comfort woman” issue remains unresolved despite a 2015 bilateral pact designed to settle it.
Japan has urged South Korea not to allow the installation of such statues, saying Seoul is obligated under the Vienna Convention to prevent any disturbance of the peace at a diplomatic mission or impairment of its dignity.
The “comfort woman” statue in front of the consulate was installed by a different civic group in 2016 and led Japan to temporarily recall of its ambassador in protest. A similar statue also exists near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.