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Hundreds of South Koreans sue government over wartime labor at Japan firms

SEOUL (Reuters) – Hundreds of South Koreans have sued the government for compensation over their forced labor at Japanese firms during World War Two, representatives said on Thursday, in a fresh twist to one of several historical disputes between the two sides.

Seoul and Tokyo have been struggling to contain fallout from a landmark ruling in October by South Korea’s Supreme Court that Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp must compensate four South Korean forced laborers as their rights to reparations were not terminated by a 1965 treaty that normalized diplomatic ties.

Under the deal, South Korea received around $800 million in economic aid and loans from Japan in exchange for Seoul considering all pre-treaty compensation issues settled. And the money was spent to rebuild its infrastructure and economy ravaged by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Similar verdicts in favor of the forced laborers followed suit, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in said last week that he respects the decision upholding their individual rights to compensation.

A group of 1,103 former forced laborers and their families said it filed a lawsuit in a Seoul court on Wednesday, demanding the South Korean government provide 100 million won ($88,500) to each of them in compensation because it had received funds from Japan.

The case adds to three suits previously raised by a total of 283 victims and their families.

“The government should compensate us first, taking responsibility for using the money it took from the 1965 treaty,” the group told a news conference in Seoul.

The two countries share a bitter history that includes Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean peninsula, the forced mobilization of labor at Japanese companies and the use of comfort women, Japan’s euphemism for girls and women, many of them Korean, forced to work in its wartime brothels.

The rows over wartime history have long been a hurdle for relations between the neighbors at a time when there is a need for concerted efforts to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Nick Macfie

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