South Korea claimed Friday that its former colonial ruler Japan is still legally responsible for "inhumane crimes," such as sexual slavery and forced labor, a demand likely to touch off a new diplomatic row with Tokyo.
Japan has maintained that its 1965 normalization treaty with South Korea freed it from all responsibilities for compensation for acts during its 1910-45 colonial rule, as Seoul received a large sum of money from Tokyo as reparations at that time.
Despite pressure from civic groups, South Korea's government has maintained a similar view with Tokyo, saying Japan may be "morally" responsible for its harsh rule, but not legally.
On Friday, however, South Korea claimed the normalization treaty didn't address compensation for abuses during Japan's colonial rule, but only settled "financial claims and liabilities" between the two countries, according to the AP.
"We cannot see that the normalization treaty resolved such inhumane crimes as comfort women, in which Japan's state power such as the government and military was involved," the prime minister's office said in a news release. "Japan's legal responsibility remains." South Korea didn't widely distribute the funds to individual victims and instead diverted them for economic development. The government of President Park Chung-hee used the money to build a highway linking Seoul and the second largest city of Busan and to establish POSCO, now the world's fifth biggest steelmaker, along with other projects.
The prime minister's office said Friday that South Korea would study ways to make financial compensation to individual victims.