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Japan PM: No more WWII brothel apologies

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raises his hand to speak during a budget committee meeting at Parliament in Tokyo, Friday, March 2, 2007. Historians say some 200,000 women, mostly from Korea and China, served in the Japanese military brothels throughout Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. Many victims say they were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops, and the top government spokesman acknowledged the wrongdoing in 1993. Abe on Thursday denied women were forced into military brothels across Asia, boosting renewed efforts by right-wing politicians to push for an official revision of the apology. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

TOKYO --Japan will not apologize again for its World War II military brothels, even if the U.S. Congress passes a resolution demanding it, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament Monday.

Abe, elaborating on his denial last week that women from across Asia were forced into sexual slavery in the 1930s and 1940s, said none of the testimony in hearings last month by the U.S. House of Representatives offered any solid proof of abuse.

"I must say we will not apologize even if there's a resolution," Abe told lawmakers in a lengthy debate, during which he also said he stood by Japan's landmark 1993 apology on the brothels.

Historians say that up to 200,000 women -- mostly from Korea and China -- served in Japanese military brothels throughout Asia during the war and in the years leading up to it.

Accounts of abuse by the military -- including kidnapping of women and girls for use in the brothels -- have been backed up by witnesses, victims and even former Japanese soldiers.

But right-wing Japanese scholars and politicians routinely deny direct military involvement or the use of force in rounding up the women, blaming private contractors for any abuses.

Abe last week sided with the critics, saying that there was no proof that the women were coerced into prostitution. On Monday, he elaborated, saying there was no evidence of coercion in the strict sense -- such as kidnapping -- but he acknowledged that brokers procuring women otherwise forced the victims to work as prostitutes. Abe did not explain further.

The U.S. House is considering a nonbinding resolution that would demand a formal acknowledgment and apology from the Japanese government for the brothels. A House committee heard testimony last month from women who described being taking captive by Japanese authorities and repeatedly raped as so-called "comfort women."

Abe suggested he did not consider such testimony conclusive evidence. "There was no testimony based that had any proof," he told lawmakers Monday.

The prime minister, who is slumping in the polls since his election in September, was accused by the opposition of endangering Japan's international standing as a nation supporting human rights.

"Unless Japan offers an apology ... I am afraid the international community will think Japan has not learned the lesson on human rights or from the war, which Japan started," Democratic Party lawmaker Toshio Ogawa said.

The issue also could disturb a recent rapprochement between Japan and its neighbors. Relations with China and South Korea have been tense in recent years, in part because of disagreements over Japan's conquest of East Asia in the 1930s and '40s. Abe, however, has worked to repair relations since taking office.

His remarks last week prompted angry responses in South Korea and the Philippines. In Seoul, the Foreign Ministry accused Abe of "glossing over the historical truth."

The 1993 apology was made by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, but was not approved by the parliament. It came after a Japanese journalist uncovered official defense documents showing the military had a direct hand in running the brothels, a role Tokyo until that point had denied.

Victims and their supporters have pushed unsuccessfully for official government compensation. Japan set up a private fund for compensation in 1995, but has refused to provide government money. The fund will be dissolved at the end of March.

Abe's government attempted to deflect criticism on Monday. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said the media had not properly interpreted Abe's remarks, and insisted that the government was eager to resolve historical issues with its neighbors in a "forward-looking" manner.