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She still remembers the blue and purple fabric of that dress, but other memories from those years are more traumatic. Japan says the claims have been settled by past agreements and apologies, and that the continued controversy threatens relations between the two countries. Japan contests that finding, and a compensation agreement between Japan and South Korea did not address the issue of whether coercion of the women was a policy of imperial Japan.
Now with only 25 registered South Korean survivors still alive, there is a sense of urgency behind efforts by the women to receive a formal apology as well as legal compensation from Japan while their voices can still be heard. Just days before Reuters interviewed Lee at her one-room apartment in the southern city of Daegu, a fellow victim had died, one of eight so far in Another survivor, Kim Bok-dong, said she wanted to share her story, but suffering from cancer and expected to live only a few more months, she was unable to find time to speak.
A sense of shame and secrecy meant most tales of abuse and coercion at the brothels for Japanese troops were never discussed publicly, until Kim Hak-sun, one of the South Korean victims, came forward in She and two other former comfort women joined a class action lawsuit against Japan, which prompted the Japanese government to acknowledge its role for the first time in From to , Japan created a fund from donations to make payments to women throughout Asia, budgeted money for their welfare support and sent letters of apology from successive premiers.
While a number of survivors have accepted compensation over the years, many South Koreans see the issue as unresolved because of what they consider a lack of sincerity from the Japanese government.
Critics of South Korea have also accused it of ignoring the complicity of some Koreans in the sex trade at the time. In the past year, South Korea has also opened a new research center aimed at consolidating academic study of comfort women, named the first Comfort Women Day and unveiled a new memorial in Cheonan, a city south of Seoul.