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N. Korea urges Japan to pay for wartime killing of Koreans on ship

Lee Ok-sun, a victim of Japan's wartime sexual slavery, speaks of the Constitutional Court's decision on Dec. 27, 2019, to reject a petition by Korean victims of Japan's sexual enslavement during World War II against the government's 2015 deal with Japan on the issue. (Yonhap). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Aug 24, 2020, The Korea Herald. North Korea on Monday urged Japan to apologize and compensate for killing at least 524 Koreans returning home in 1945 by allegedly blowing up the ship they were on, The Korea Herald reported.

A spokesman for the North Korean association of families of the deceased victims who were sent abroad against their will by the Japanese colonial government to work for its military during World War II said in a statement that Japan must “close the books” for its past crimes, and we will make them pay (for the crimes),” according to the North’s state news agency.

On Aug. 24, 1945, days after Japan surrendered and ended the war on Aug. 15, a Japanese naval transport vessel carrying close to 4,000 Korean laborers and their families from a military facility in Japan’s Aomori, bound for Busan, struck an American naval mine, exploded and sank.

Koreans, both in the South and the North, see this as a deliberate Japanese war crime committed by Tokyo at the time to conceal information about its military base.

A North Korean film in 2000, titled “Souls Protest,” depicted the Ukishima Maru incident in support of the Korean view that the explosion was intentionally set off by the ship’s Japanese crew. A Seoul-based film trader imported the film and released it in 2001 after cutting five minutes of footage showing Koreans crediting Kim Il-sung, founder of the North Korean regime.

The Japanese government said in 1945 that the explosion had killed 524 Koreans and 25 Japanese naval officials.

Eighty South Korean survivors and families of the victims had filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government, seeking some 8 billion yen in compensation, an official apology and the remains of the victims, which are currently kept in a shrine in Japan.

In 2001, Japan’s Kyoto District Court ordered Tokyo to pay 45 million yen to 15 South Koreans as it ruled that the Japanese government had failed in its duty to transport passengers safely as per the legal relationship between Tokyo and the passengers at the time.

The court rejected, however, the plaintiffs’ claims demanding official apologies and the return of the remains, and the claims of 65 plaintiffs, saying that their relationship with the victims could not be established.

In 2003, the High Court of Osaka rejected the district court’s order, and the country’s top court finally turned it down in 2004.

On Monday, the 75th anniversary of the explosion, the spokesman for the victims and their families said, “The Ukishima Mara incident was one of the abhorrent mass killings of Koreans committed by the evil Japanese forces in revenge for their defeat (in the war). The Japanese authorities shamelessly describe it as an accident … The more they try to cover up the truth, it will only reveal their ugliness. We will never forget imperial Japan’s crimes of massacres of Koreans.”

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