WASHINGTON — A congressional panel on Tuesday endorsed overwhelmingly a resolution urging Japan to apologize formally for coercing thousands of women to work as sex slaves for its World War II military.

The 39-2 approval by the Foreign Affairs Committee allows the measure to be considered by the full House. A large crowd of supporters applauded and cheered after the lawmakers' vote.

Japan "has actively promoted historical amnesia; the facts are plain," the committee's chairman, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said. This resolution "seeks admission of the horrible truth, in order that this horror may never be perpetrated again."

More than 140 lawmakers from both political parties have agreed to co-sponsor the nonbinding resolution, which urges Japan to "formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner" for the suffering of so-called "comfort women" during the 1930s and 1940s.

While popular among U.S. lawmakers, the resolution has caused unease in Japan. Officials there say their country's prime ministers have apologized repeatedly — including during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Washington in April — for the Imperial Japanese Army's forcing of women to work in military brothels during World War II.

Abe said Tuesday he was not in a position to comment on a decision by the U.S. Congress. But he told reporters that he was "convinced that Japan-U.S. ties remain unshakable."

Some U.S. lawmakers questioned the resolution.

"I wonder how many times we expect a government to apologize for the sins of an imperial government of the past," Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo said. "Asking the Japanese government to take historical responsibility for atrocities of the defunct imperial-era government is somewhat counterproductive and unfair to the people of Japan."

Critics contend that, despite the apologies, Japan has never assumed responsibility fully for the treatment of the women.

People across Asia and the United States, including conservative supporters of Japan in Congress, were infuriated at Abe's suggestion in March that no proof existed that the military had coerced women into brothels. U.S. officials later said Abe's subsequent public statements supporting a 1993 government apology were convincing.

Japan acknowledged in the 1990s that its military set up and ran brothels for its troops. It has rejected most compensation claims, saying they were settled by postwar treaties.

The Asian Women's Fund, created in 1995 by the Japanese government but run independently and financed by private donations, has provided a way for Japan to compensate former sex slaves without offering official government compensation. Many comfort women have rejected the fund.

Supporters of the resolution want an apology similar to the one the U.S. government gave to Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. That apology was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Ronadl Reagan in 1988.

Historians say up to 200,000 women were forced to have sex with millions of Japanese soldiers during the war.

In February, three elderly former comfort women testified to a congressional panel of their rape, torture and humiliation by Japanese soldiers during the war.