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Japanese Court Orders Payment to Chinese Victims of WWII Chemical Weapons - 2003-09-29

A Japanese court has awarded $1.7 million to a group of Chinese made ill by or lost family to chemicals weapons dumped in China by the Japanese Army during World War II.

The Tokyo District Court on Monday ruled in favor of 13 Chinese nationals and their relatives who had been killed or injured by chemical and other weapons left behind by Japan's Imperial Army at the end of World War II.

The plaintiffs themselves or their families suffered the effects long after the war. They were exposed in the 1970s through the 1990s, when old shells or containers holding the poison gas exploded. Some people were killed instantly, and the survivors still complain of respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, that prevent them from working.

Tokyo admits that its occupying Japanese Army left behind about 700,000 chemical weapons in China. Under an international agreement, Japan has pledged to clean up the toxic weapons by 2007.

But just this August, one man died and more than 30 were injured when they dug up some old Japanese mustard gas buried on a construction site in Northeastern China. Japan quickly dispatched an emergency medical team as well as weapons experts to seal the leaking containers.

Monday's $1.7 million settlement is unusual. Japanese courts normally back the government's official position that all war-related claims were settled in peace treaties signed after the end of the war and the legal system should not address compensation claims.