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Japan Ordered to Compensate 15 Koreans - 2001-08-23

A court in Japan has ruled that the government must compensate 15 Koreans who were on a Japanese ship that exploded and sank shortly after the end of World War II. The ruling marks just the third case in which foreign war victims seeking compensation from Tokyo were awarded payment.

The Kyoto District Court in Western Japan ordered the Japanese government to pay $375,000 dollars to 15 South Koreans who survived a blast in a Japanese Navy ship in 1945.

They, and thousands of others, had been returning home from Japan where they had been forced laborers during World War II. A sudden explosion on board killed more than 500 people, most of them Koreans.

In awarding the compensation, the presiding judge said the Japanese government had neglected its duties to safely transport the passengers.

But plaintiffs are criticizing the ruling as unfair. The court rejected a demand for a government apology and disqualified 65 additional plaintiffs from the suit who were either survivors or relatives of the dead. The court said it could only confirm the whereabouts of 15 plaintiffs when the disaster struck.

The chief lawyer for the plaintiffs, Masayoshi Nakata, told VOA that his clients will discuss whether to appeal. He said the primary claim was for an apology from the government and an investigation to find out what really happened. He added that it is unfortunate that this was ignored by the court.

The plaintiffs have long accused the ship's Japanese crew of intentionally setting the explosion to avoid an uprising by Korean passengers. Japan denies that claim and says the vessel hit a mine planted by U.S. forces in Kyoto Prefecture's Maizuru port.

In response to the ruling, the Japanese government released a statement calling it severe and said it has yet to decide on an appeal.

Recently, dozens of lawsuits have been brought against Tokyo and Japanese companies by wartime slave laborers and sex workers from South Korea and China. Thursday's ruling marks the third time in which foreigners seeking compensation from the Japanese government were successful.