Japan has demanded that South Korea remove monuments set up at home and abroad to mark the victims of the Japanese Imperial Army's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II, Yonhap quoted government sources as saying Sunday.
The demand was made during the two countries' monthly director-general level talks launched earlier this year to resolve thorny bilateral issues, including the so-called comfort women issue. The neighbors held the fifth round of the talks last week.
During the talks, the Japanese side demanded Seoul's removal of a girl's statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and other monuments in several U.S. states, set up to commemorate the comfort women victims, according to the government sources.
Seoul, however, reacted negatively, saying that the government cannot demolish the monuments that were installed by private groups through donations, the sources noted.
"If Japan resolves the military comfort women issue, it will naturally influence the (monument building) movement by private groups, and it is not something that the (South Korean) government could guarantee," a high-ranking government official said. "Our position is that Japan should come up with resolutions that can appease the victims," he said.
The difference between the two countries show how difficult it will be for them to come to an agreement over the issue, which has been the major source of bilateral diplomatic tensions in recent years.
Seoul has consistently pressed Japan to issue an apology and compensation measures for the 54 living victims of the wartime sexual atrocity.
But Japan has maintained its position that the dispute has been settled in the 1965 bilateral agreement in which Japan resolved all compensation issues stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula, including the comfort women issue.
Japan has also highlighted its issuance of an official apology in 1993 and provision of a set of financial compensations to the victims as its moral resolution of the issue.
Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea and China, were coerced into offering sexual services for the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. Only 54 victims remain alive in South Korea, with their average age standing at 88.