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Friday, October 9, 1998 Published at 01:29 GMT 02:29 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Japan and South Korea: Laying history to rest

Kim Dae-Jung, second left, with Keizo Obuchi: Looking forward to cooperation

By Asia Analyst Angie Knox

It has taken more than half a century after the Japanese occupying forces left the Korean peninsula for Tokyo to say sorry to the Koreans for its brutal colonial rule.

But on the second day of a visit to Japan by the South Korean President, Kim Dae-jung, Mr Obuchi did just that.

"I would like to express deep remorse and heartfelt apologies over the pain and damage Japan inflicted on the South Korean people during its colonial rule," he said.

It may have sounded very similar to previous apologies for Japan's wartime actions, but this was the first written apology on behalf of the Japanese government to make reference to the occupation of Korea.

Accepting the apology, President Kim said he believed it would finally settle the issue of past history and enable the two countries to look forward to future cooperation.

Not all are happy

He is especially keen to build economic ties - as a gesture towards the new relationship, Japan has pledged to lend South Korea $3bn to assist its ailing economy.

But not all Koreans are so easily satisfied. During the period of Japanese occupation between 1910 and 1945, Korea was systematically strip-mined for its raw materials and cheap labour to build Japan's newly industrialising economy.

Later it also supplied the Japanese war machine, most notoriously in the form of female sex slaves for the army.

The subjugation was total: Koreans were not even allowed to speak their own language, and were forced to use Japanese names.

Sex slaves say apology not enough

Anger and humiliation among many Koreans has lingered long after the departure of the defeated Japanese in 1945.

And a simple apology from the Japanese government may not be enough to dispel those feelings.

Chung Chin Seung is a member of the executive committee of the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Sexual Slavery by Japan. She says Japan should do more for the survivors of the tens of thousands of Korean women forced into prostitution by the Japanese army.

"We think there is real progress in that the apology was made in written form, but we think the content itself has not changed much compared with the apology of the previous prime minister,'' she said.

''We think the Japanese government has to admit that they committed war crimes.

''Also we think that as a result of this apology there should be some measures - like compensation or punishment of war criminals - but there's no word about that. So we are very disappointed."

Japanese emperor invited to South Korea

Four years ago, the then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama apologised personally to all Asian peoples for Japan's colonial rule and wartime actions.

This time, his successor has offered an official apology directly to all Koreans.

But activists like Chung Chin Seung say they will continue to campaign for compensation, in spite of President Kim's comments.

The real test of whether or not relations between the two countries can ever return to normal is likely to come soon.

President Kim has invited the Japanese emperor to visit South Korea.

Tokyo has not responded to the invitation; officials will need to consider the sort of reception Emperor Akihito might receive from the Korean people.

President Kim said he hoped the visit would take place before 2002. That is when South Korea and Japan are to jointly host the football World Cup.

The two countries had lodged rival bids for the competition, and it remains to be seen whether they can put aside their historic rivalry in time to cooperate on the football pitch.

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