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6 decades after surrender, war tensions still haunt Asia

Japan apologizes; other nations honor dead, seek reparations

SHARE 6 decades after surrender, war tensions still haunt Asia

TOKYO — Japan's leader apologized for Tokyo's wartime colonization and invasions early Monday, a day after other Asian nations marked the 60th anniversary of the Japanese World War II surrender by honoring their dead and demanding compensation for their losses.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledged that Japan would never forget the "terrible lessons" of the war and expressed his "deep reflections and heartfelt" sorrow for the damage.

The anniversary of Japan's surrender — Aug. 15, 1945 — inspired commemorations across Asia on Sunday and Monday, including a rare joint event by North and South Korea.

Protesters in Hong Kong Sunday burned Japan's flag and marched on Tokyo's consulate chanting "Down with Japanese imperialism!"

In the Philippines, elderly women once forced to act as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers renewed demands for compensation and apologies. Former Australian prisoners of war returned to the Thai jungles where they labored under brutal conditions to build the notorious Death Railway.

China exhorted its citizens to remember Tokyo's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, with "a fresh wave of patriotism," as state-run media whipped up memories of Japanese atrocities.

The outpouring of emotion revealed the unhealed wounds six decades after Japan's Emperor Hirohito conceded defeat in a radio broadcast, just days after the United States incinerated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs.

Koizumi, in a written statement marking his second apology for the war to Asian neighbors this year, recognized the suffering his nation inflicted. "Our country has caused great damages and pain to people in many countries, especially our Asian neighbors, through colonization and invasion."

He added: "We will not forget the terrible lessons of the war, and will contribute to world peace and prosperity."

The anniversary comes as Japan's relations with its neighbors are their most frayed in decades.

Regional strains stem partly from anxiety over North Korea's nuclear arms program and a dispute between Japan and China over resources in a contested area of the East China Sea. But bitter complaints remain that Japan has not properly atoned for brutally occupying much of the region in the 1930s and '40s.

"I can accept the fact that the young generation of Japanese is not to blame. It was their fathers and grandfathers. But until they own up, they'll always be a pariah nation," said 84-year-old Baden Jones, an Australian.

He was among former POWs who honored fallen comrades at a ceremony in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, Sunday where many of the 12,000 prisoners who died building Japan's jungle railway were buried.

Bitterness runs especially deep in China. Riots erupted earlier this year over Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni war shrine — which deifies Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals — and over Tokyo's approval of history textbooks that critics say gloss over wartime atrocities.

The sense of victims' solidarity extended across the Cold War's last frontier as a delegation of about 200 North Koreans arrived in Seoul, South Korea, to pay a first-ever visit to a cemetery where Korean War dead are buried.

Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910. While the war's end brought liberation, it also led to the peninsula's division and a stalemated war between North and South in 1950-53.

"We've proposed the visit to remember the many who died for Korea's liberation," the head of the North Korean delegation, Kim Chi Nam, told South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young.

In the Philippines, Lili-Pilipina, a group of women who say they were forced into prostitution by the Japanese Imperial Army, demanded again that Tokyo compensate them. While some have accepted payments from the privately run Asian Women's Fund, the women want official compensation and acknowledgment of their suffering from the Japanese government.

Tokyo has generally refused to pay damages to individuals for the war, saying the issue was settled between governments in postwar treaties. Japanese courts have rejected a number of lawsuits brought by former sex slaves across Asia.

In China's anniversary events, national religious associations planned rites condemning aggression and praying for peace, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The northeastern city of Qiqihar put on an exhibit commemorating the death of a Chinese man two years ago from a mustard gas canister abandoned by Japan's army, the China Youth Daily reported. The leak also injured 42 people.

Japan invaded China in 1931. Its troops massacred as many as 300,000 people after taking the city of Nanjing in December 1937, and Japanese scientists performed germ warfare experiments on Chinese prisoners.

Looming over this year's remembrances was the Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including its prime minister during World War II, Hideki Tojo.

North Korea decried the shrine visits as a sign of resurgent Japanese militarism.

"These militarist forces are directly exercising increasing influence on shaping policies," the communist country's state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary Saturday.