Korean victims of US atom bombs in shadows at summit

Thousands of Koreans who survived the U.S. atomic bombings of Japan in the final days of World War Two have struggled for decades with debilitating illness, poverty and discrimination with little help coming from Tokyo or Seoul.

Korean victims of US atom bombs in shadows at summit
When the leaders of Japan and South Korea met on Monday to discuss reviving their battered economies there was little time for the likes of Park Cheol-woo, whose arm was left withered by radiation from the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Park and the thousands of Koreans who survived the U.S. atomic bombings of Japan in the final days of World War Two have struggled for decades with debilitating illness, poverty and discrimination with little help coming from Tokyo or Seoul.

"Our families were forced to go to Japan and than forced into labour, only to be bombed by nuclear weapons," said Park, who was four years old at the time.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak largely steered clear of historical rows to instead focus on the immediate challenges their export-driven economies face from the global financial crisis.

There were about 70,000 Korean victims in total at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, with 40,000 dying in the blasts or shortly after, according to the Korean Atomic Bomb Victims' Association. Japanese data shows slightly smaller numbers.

Many of the Koreans were in Japan as forced labour or had left Korea voluntarily to escape poverty. When they returned to a divided Korea after Japan's defeat, they were shunned out of fear of radiation poisoning-related illnesses while many struggled for decades due to ill health and mounting medical expenses.

Park, whose father was used as forced labour in Hiroshima, saw his younger brother die of the after-effects of the bomb while the muscles of his left arm never fully developed.

Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula still stings in the North and South, with protesters taking to the streets to denounce the visiting Aso, whose family used forced Korean labour in its mines before and during the war.

The protesters demanded compensation for Koreans forced to build Japan's war machine during the colonial period as well as for the thousands of Korean women forced to work at front-line brothels for Japan's army.

Victims absent

But the atomic bomb victims were not on the streets.

"We are just too bogged down with court cases," said Lim Eun-hye, of the Korean Atomic Bomb Victims' Association, adding the group was seeking compensation for mental anguish.

Japan had paid for medical treatment for its own victims of the atomic blasts but for years had avoided making similar payments to foreign victims unless they applied in person in Japan and stayed there for treatment.

The government changed that system in 2002 to allow foreign victims to receive payments overseas but it still required them to visit Japan first, which many victims said was unjust because they were too old and too ill.

But the Japan government mostly held off on making any payments until it was ordered to do so by its Supreme Court in 2007. Many of the 40 South Koreans who brought the case that ended up at the court died before the decision.

Japan later eased its requirement that victims need to be certified within its borders.

Japan's Health Ministry said there were 4,300 registered victims living in 33 countries. There were 2,900 victims from South Korea, followed by 970 from the United States. Estimates say there are more than 1,000 survivors in North Korea, but none are registered because Tokyo and Pyongyang have no diplomatic ties.

Almost all of the South Korean victims now receive 33,000 yen ($370) a month for medical fees.

"It just doesn't make sense that we have had to go through all of this for so many years," atomic bomb victim Park said.


Reuters
Last Mod: 12 Ocak 2009, 13:44
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