(4th LD) Civic group installs 'comfort women' statue near Japanese consulate in Busan
(ATTN: ADDS Japan's reaction in 15th para)
BUSAN, Dec. 30 (Yonhap) -- A civic group installed a statue of a girl symbolizing the victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery in front of the Japanese Consulate in South Korea's largest port city of Busan on Friday after the Dong Ward municipality gave its approval.
The ward municipality agreed earlier in the day to let the civic group install the statue on the sidewalk about 40 meters away from the consulate's back door.
It marked the second of its kind established in front of Japan's overseas diplomatic missions after one was installed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
"We will not stop the civic group from installing the statue in front of the consulate if they wish to do so," Park Sam-seok, chief of the municipality, said at a press conference.
This photo, taken on Dec. 30, 2016, shows people installing a statue of a girl representing victims of wartime sex slavery by the Japanese military in front of the Japanese Consulate in South Korea's largest port city of Busan. (Yonhap)
The decision came two days after the group attempted to erect the statue in front of the back door of the consulate but was stopped due to opposition from ward officials and police. Citing that the installation obstructed a road, the ward office then seized the statue.
During the press conference, Park also offered an apology to citizens for the incident, saying: "I would like to give the citizens words of apology. We find this issue (of erecting the statue) difficult to handle as a local government."
He also said the municipal government will not mobilize officials or police to stop the group from installing it in front of the consulate.
The group will hold a ceremony around 9:00 p.m. the next day, along with the city's citizens, to mark the unveiling of the statue.
"We are very much heartened that we have gotten back the statue," Chung Kyung-sook, a co-leader of the group, said, adding they will celebrate the installation with Busan residents the next day. The statue, also known as the Peace Monument, is the 37th such monument established in South Korea.
The 1-ton statue of a barefoot seated teenage girl in a traditional Korean hanbok dress, similar to another set up in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, will sit on a marble base 2 meters wide and 1.6 meters long. The base has the names of 5,143 people who donated to the statue's creation inscribed on it.
Members of the group have been seeking to install the statue as part of their protest against a Seoul-Tokyo deal made in December last year. Under the landmark deal, Tokyo apologized for its colonial-era atrocities and agreed to provide 1 billion yen (US$9.61 million) to a foundation aimed at supporting the victims, euphemistically called comfort women.
Earlier in the day, the municipality handed over the confiscated statue, which it had kept on the ward office's premises.
Following the seizure, the ward office was swamped with angry calls and messages, which shut down its website as sentiment against the move ran high. The office then apparently agreed to return the figure to the group as it had no legal grounds for the seizure.
The ward office's about-face is expected to cause diplomatic friction between South Korea and Japan. On Dec. 20, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed opposition to the installation, saying it is "very regrettable, and the Japanese Consulate has sent the ward office an official document protesting it."
Japan's Kyodo News reported later in the day that Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama told South Korea's Ambassador to Japan, Lee Joon-gyu, over the phone that the installation of the statue in Busan was "extremely regrettable," and called for its immediate removal. Sugiyama also said that it would "unfavorably influence" bilateral ties between South Korea and Japan, according to Kyodo News.
A Japanese flag flutters at the Japanese Consulate in South Korea's largest port city of Busan on Dec. 30, 2016, after a civic group installed a statue of a girl (front) representing victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery in front of the consulate. (Yonhap)
South Korean victims, liberal civic groups and opposition parties have accused the South Korean government of striking the December 2015 deal hastily without obtaining Japan's acknowledgment of legal responsibility. They also said the agreement was reached without prior consultation with the victims.