South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak on Thursday urged Japan to settle long-running grievances over wartime sex slavery, saying time was running out to resolve the issue.
In a speech commemorating Korea's 1919 nationwide uprising against Japan's colonial rule, Lee said victims who "have been living with deep scars in their mind" were now well over 80 years old.
If they pass away as their grievances are left unresolved, Japan would "lose the chance to settle this issue for good," Lee said. "In order for the two countries to work closely together as partners, genuine courage and wisdom to face the truth are required."
"Among various pending issues, the issue of military comfort women is a humanitarian matter that must be resolved with the greatest urgency," he said.
Comfort women, a euphemism used to describe women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops before and during World War II, came to widespread notice in the early 1990s when aging victims went public.
A dwindling band of women have since vociferously demanded compensation and an apology from Japan, which mounted a brutal occupation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
In December, Lee made a similarly strong-worded appeal at a summit with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in Kyoto.
Lee recalled in Thursday's speech that he had spent most of his time at the summit on urging Japan not to avoid the issue.
He did not specify what Japan should do to settle the issue but Seoul has been demanding compensation and an official apology for the victims.
Tokyo has repeatedly apologized for occupation-era crimes but has consistently rejected South Korea's proposal for specific talks on the issue of comfort women.
Japan insists all issues were settled in a 1965 accord normalizing relations between the two countries, which also included a financial settlement.
It also maintains that it was up to the then military government in Seoul to disburse compensation appropriately.© AFP