TOKYO — Japan apologized Monday for forcing tens of thousands of Korean women to serve as prostitutes for its soldiers in World War II. Protesters in South Korea demanded compensation for the war's "comfort girls."
Until now, Japan denied involvement in the matter, saying private groups were responsible for what Koreans said was the coercion of up to 200,000 women from Korea, then a Japanese colony, into prostitution.
But the reported discovery Saturday of documents showing the army's role in the industry forced a government turnaround.
"We cannot deny that the former Japanese army played a role" in abducting and detaining the "comfort girls," chief government spokesman Koichi Kato said.
"We would like to express our apologies and contrition," said Kato, who added that Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa would repeat the apology during a visit beginning Thursday to South Korea.
Kato said, however, that Japan would not compensate the victims.
Tokyo maintains that the question of war reparations was settled when Japan and South Korea normalized relations in 1965.