December 14, 2005

Korean WW2 forced laborers lose Japan court fight

TOKYO (Reuters) - Relatives of four deceased South Koreans
who were forced laborers at a steel mill in northern Japan
during World War Two failed on Wednesday to overturn a Japanese
court decision refusing compensation for unpaid wages.

The result, in line with most Japanese rulings on
war-related compensation claims, comes at a time when Japan's
ties with South Korea and China have been chilled by disputes
stemming from Japan's past aggression in Asia.

In Wednesday's case, Tokyo High Court rejected an appeal
from a lower court in which the relatives demanded that the
Japanese government be ordered to pay 20 million yen ($166,600)
in compensation for each of the four, Kyodo news agency said.

"It is legitimate to reject the case as it is clear that
the right to file claims has been nullified," Presiding Judge
Hiromu Emi was quoted by Kyodo as saying.

A court official confirmed that the appeal had been
rejected but declined to give further details.

The court upheld an October 2004 ruling that said property
claims by South Koreans who were forced to work in wartime
Japan had been nullified under a 1965 treaty that normalized
relations between the two countries, Kyodo said.

It said the court heard that the four deceased South
Koreans were forcibly brought to Japan and made to labor at an
ironworks in the city of Kamaishi, about 400 km (250 miles)
north of Tokyo, for Japan Iron & Steel Co. -- now known as
Nippon Steel Corp. They died in an Allied naval bombardment in
July 1945, it said.

Japan says the issue of wartime compensation claims with
South Korea was settled in the 1965 treaty, which required
Japan to pay $500 million in economic aid to South Korea.


The steel mill operator deposited unpaid wages at a Justice
Ministry bureau in the northern city of Morioka in 1946, Kyodo
said. But when relatives asked Japan to hand over the wages in
1997, the bureau refused, citing the 1965 treaty, it said.

Nippon Steel, however, reached an out-of-court settlement
in 1997 to pay some 20 million yen in condolence money, the
first such agreement over a Korean or Chinese forced labor
lawsuit, Kyodo said.

Historians say thousands of Koreans worked for Japan's
industrial machine during its 1910-1945 colonial rule over the
Korean peninsula.

In a sign of how the issue resonates with South Koreans,
Seoul has asked Tokyo for data on more than 100 firms suspected
of using forced Korean labor during its colonial rule,
including one run by the family of Japanese Foreign Minister
Taro Aso.

The two sides have held discussions since May on the fate
of the Korean forced laborers.

Japan's ties with South Korea and China have deteriorated
since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took office in 2001 and
began making annual visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, which
honors war criminals along with Japan's 2.5 million war dead.