June 28, 2005

Japan emperor visits memorial to Korean war dead

SAIPAN (Reuters) - Japanese Emperor Akihito, on apilgrimage to the U.S. territory of Saipan -- site of adecisive World War II battle -- abruptly changed his scheduleon Tuesday to visit a memorial to Koreans who died in thePacific conflict.

Akihito's journey, his first trip outside Japan to payrespects to war dead, coincides with a deterioration in Japan'sties with China and South Korea, still tormented by the wartimepast 60 years later.

Korean residents of Saipan had asked the emperor to visitthe memorial to their fallen compatriots, but until Tuesdaythey had received no reply.

About 1,000 Korean laborers were brought to the islandagainst their will during the 1930s, joining thousands ofJapanese workers also relocated there after it became Japaneseterritory at the end of World War One.

Koreans left on the island when World War II ended weremostly repatriated to the Korean peninsula, and most of the2,500 Koreans now living on Saipan came during the past 30years.

A Japanese Imperial Household Agency official gave noexplanation for the sudden decision to visit the Koreanmemorial.

Many South Koreans still resent Japan's often brutal1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula, and a meetingof the two countries' leaders last week failed to thaw therecent diplomatic chill.