Japan reported to be proposing 'comfort women' solution

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his official residence in Tokyo (24 December 2015) Image copyright AP
Image caption Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is reported to be eager to find a definitive solution to the "comfort women" question

Japan is reported to have proposed setting up a government fund to resolve a longstanding disagreement with South Korea about sex slaves during World War Two.

The "comfort women" were forced to work in Japanese military brothels.

PM Shinzo Abe has instructed his foreign minister to sort out the issue during a visit to Seoul next week, Japanese media has reported.

The issue has dogged relations with South Korea for decades.

South Korea has previously maintained that Japanese apologies do not go far enough and has been critical of what it sees as Japan's reluctance to atone for its brutal wartime past.

But relations between the two countries have improved recently after they agreed to accelerate talks.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Former South Korean comfort women stage frequent demonstrations outside Seoul's Japanese embassy
Image copyright AP
Image caption Relations between Japan and South Korea have improved recently after they agreed to accelerate talks

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was reported on Friday to have arranged a surprise visit to South Korea in the hope of finding an early resolution.

He was speaking after Japanese media reports said that Mr Abe had instructed him to hold ministerial talks in Seoul as early as Monday to resolve the question.

Any fund will follow a similar one set up 1995 which ended after a decade. At that time it was made clear that the money was raised from donations, not from the Japanese government.

One proposal reported by the Nikkei Asian Review would involve Japan providing 10 years' worth of aid - more than 100 million yen ($830,000; £550,000).

It reports that South Korea is pushing for an apology from Mr Abe that includes recognition of Japan's responsibility.

The website says that some in the Japanese government support a plan which would entail Mr Abe sending letters to "comfort women" which will allude to Japanese "responsibility" and referring to an "apology".

It has also been suggested that Japan's ambassador in Seoul may meet former "comfort women".

In return, Japan seeks a guarantee that any conclusion reached will be the final word on the issue.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalisation of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Up to 200,000 women are estimated to have been sexually enslaved by Japan during WW2, many of them Korean.

Other women came from China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Japan has apologised in the past for the "pain and suffering" of the women, but South Korea wants a stronger apology and compensation for victims.

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