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South Korea Urges Japan Issue 'Heartfelt Apology to 'Comfort Women'

A woman puts a scarf on a statue of a comfort woman sitting in a installation of empty chairs symbolizing the victims in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 27, 2017.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has urged Japan to make a "heartfelt apology" to the women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese colonial forces.

President Moon told reporters during a televised news conference in Seoul Wednesday that a 2015 agreement aimed at reaching a final settlement over the so-called "comfort women" failed to take into account the feelings and opinions of the victims.

The deal, approved by ousted conservative President Park Geun-hye, called on Tokyo to pay $8 million into a fund to support the victims, along with an apology from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the actions of its troops during Japan's brutal rule of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

But Moon has sided with the conclusion reached last week by a special task force he created to study the agreement.

The president said the issue cannot be resolved in a mere "give-and-take manner," and called on Tokyo to "accept the truth" and work with the international community to ensure nothing like that ever happens again.

Despite the president's opposition to the final deal, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Tuesday Seoul will not renegotiate the agreement, as it is "undeniable" that it was a formal agreement between Tokyo and the previous South Korean government.

Instead, Kang said the government will replace the $8 million Japan paid into the victims' fund with money from its own budget.

Moon's displeasure with the agreement has angered Japan. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday the 2015 agreement was the final word on the matter, and that Tokyo will not accept Seoul's demands to do more to compensate the victims

President Moon acknowledged Japan's stance on the issue during his news conference, saying it was important to maintain good diplomatic ties with Seoul, despite their differences.

Historians believe that up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea as well as other parts of Asia, were forced into sexual slavery during World War II.