February 9, 2007 / 3:29 AM / 12 years ago

Congress to hear WW2 sex slaves' testimony

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three women who were forced into sexual servitude by Japanese soldiers in World War Two will testify before a U.S. congressional committee next week, the author of a resolution calling on Tokyo to apologize for the practice said on Thursday.

Rep. Michael Honda, a California Democrat who introduced the nonbinding measure on February 1, told reporters he was confident the resolution would pass by the end of March.

“There are parties who are going to be lobbying against the resolution also, but on the whole we’re enjoying bipartisan support,” said Honda, one of a handful of U.S. lawmakers of Japanese descent.

Honda’s resolution calls on the government of Japan to “formally and unambiguously apologize for and acknowledge the tragedy that comfort women endured at the hands of its Imperial Army during World War Two.”

“Comfort women” is a Japanese euphemism for the estimated 200,000 women forced to provide sex for Japan’s soldiers at battle-zone brothels during World War Two.

Honda said the first step toward passage would be the hearing at the Asia-Pacific subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on February 15.

Witnesses would include experts on the issue and three former comfort women: Koreans Lee Yong-soo and Kim Koon-ja and Jan Ruff O’Herne, a Dutch-born woman who now lives in Australia, said Honda’s office.

Asked about the timing of debate that could become an irritant in U.S.-Japan relations ahead of an expected spring visit to Washington by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Honda said that time was running out for the elderly women.

“The urgency is based upon the age of the women who were victims of the policy. Every year these ladies get older and older and they start to die off,” he said in a conference call with reporters in Washington.

Japan in 1993 acknowledged a state role in the wartime program and Japanese leaders since 1996 have sent letters of apology to 285 of the women, along with donated funds collected by the government-administered Asian Women’s Fund.

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