Japan demands panel of third-country arbitrators to address forced labor dispute

TOKYO, Japan made another highly charged request to South Korea on Wednesday for the formation of an arbitration panel consisting of third-country members to discuss Tokyo's wartime forced labor.

The move came as South Korea did not accede to the earlier request that Japan made on May 20 to form a panel consisting of one member each from the two countries and the other from a third country based on dispute settlement procedures of a 1965 bilateral accord.

Kenji Kanasugi, director-general at the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian affairs bureau, called in Kim Kyung-han, political minister of the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo, to make the official request.

"I received a strong demand (from Japan for South Korea) to accede to the request for the opening of the arbitration panel," Kim told reporters after meeting the Japanese official. "I will report to Seoul's foreign ministry."

Aimed at normalizing the two countries' ties after Tokyo's 1910-45 colonization of the peninsula, the accord stipulates that Seoul and Tokyo are to settle any dispute concerning the interpretation or the implementation of it primarily through diplomatic channels.

If they fail to settle it, the case can then be referred to a commission involving a third-country arbitrator agreed on by the two sides. Should this fail again, the two sides are to form a panel consisting of three third-country members.

Tokyo first made the call for diplomatic discussions over the thorny issue in January. It then requested the formation of a panel involving a third-country member last month.

Japan has protested South Korean Supreme Court rulings last year that ordered Japanese firms to compensate South Korean victims of forced labor.

South Korea's top court recognized victims' individual rights to claim damages, while Seoul maintains that it honors the court rulings based on the constitutional separation of the executive, judicial and legislative powers, and that it can't get involved in civil litigation.

Japan argues that all colonial-era reparation issues were settled under the 1965 deal.

The Japanese firms have not complied with the court orders, prompting the victims to take legal steps to seize or liquidate the companies' assets based in Korea.

Source: Yonhap news Agency

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