|Gender Equality and Family Minister Jin Sun-mee embraces Lee Yong-su, a survivor of sex slavery during World War II, during a ceremony to commemorate the victims at the Kim Koo Museum and Library in Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
Korea held a national ceremony Wednesday to commemorate former wartime sex slaves.
On the eve of National Liberation Day, the government hosted the event at the Kim Koo Museum and Library in Seoul, where some 300 people, including victims, participated.
It was the second time the government led the event since it designated the day as a national memorial day last year. It is the same day in 1991 that the late Kim Hak-sun made the first testimony of Japan's wartime sex slavery.
The ceremony drew extra attention as diplomatic and trade tensions between Korea and Japan are escalating after Tokyo began to tighten its control on exports to Seoul last month. As a result, anti-Japan sentiment is intensifying here.
The Japanese government's decision to impose the restrictions is widely believed to be apparent retaliation to a court ruling in Korea last year calling for Japanese companies to compensate surviving victims of wartime forced labor.
"This year marks the 100th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement and the establishment of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai, China," Gender Equality and Family Minister Jin Sun-mee said during the event. "In addition, tomorrow is the 74th anniversary of National Liberation Day. Given the situation, today's ceremony carries extra weight."
Actress Han Ji-min read a letter written by a daughter of one of the sex slavery victims.
"When I heard my mother was a comfort woman for the Japanese military, I was too young to understand it," she read. "I cried and cried over my mother's pain and suffering that she had to undergo throughout her entire life."
President Moon Jae-in, who attended last year's event, did not attend this time, but delivered a commemorative letter that said the government would step up efforts to restore the dignity and honor of the victims of the imperial Japanese army.
An estimated 200,000 women were sent to Japanese military brothels between 1932 and 1945 when the Korean Peninsula was a Japanese colony. Those sex slaves were euphemistically called comfort women.
The Japanese government recognized in 1993 that its military forced women into the frontline brothels, but later changed its stance and said there was not enough evidence to prove the women were forced to work as sex slaves during the war.
Meanwhile, civic groups at home and abroad held rallies and events on Wednesday to commemorate the victims as part of International Memorial Day for Victims of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery.