November 12, 2018 / 8:34 AM / a year ago

Nippon Steel rebuffs South Korean lawyers in forced labour row

TOKYO (Reuters) - Lawyers seeking compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms during World War Two on Monday demanded Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp honour a South Korean court ruling that has strained ties between the two countries.

Lawyers and activists hold photos of South Korean plaintiffs who were forced to work for a Japanese firm during World War Two as they visit Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp's headquarters building in Tokyo, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo November 12, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Last month, South Korea’s top court ruled that Nippon Steel must pay four steel workers 100 million won ($87,700) each for their forced labour during the war, a decision Japan has denounced as “unthinkable.”

The South Korean lawyers sought a meeting with Nippon Steel representatives at the company’s Tokyo headquarters on Monday, but were turned away at the entrance.

“We got an answer from them. However, it was not from the company itself, but from a contract security guard,” lawyer Lim Jae Sung told reporters.

A Nippon Steel spokeswoman said its security officers spoke to the group at the visitors’ entrance and told them the company’s position had not changed.

The company has said that it regretted the court ruling and repeated the Japanese government’s position that the issue had been resolved in a 1965 treaty.

The binding court verdict is straining ties between the neighbours and could affect their joint efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes, analysts say.

“We started this lawsuit with four plaintiffs but three of them passed away and only one is alive. He has been waiting for so long,” lawyer Kim Se Eun told reporters.

“We are hoping the Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp will fulfil their obligation in accordance with the court’s decision,” she added.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press briefing on Monday the government was in close contact with firms affected by the case and other similar suits. He said Japan was waiting for Seoul to take steps to redress what Tokyo sees as a violation of international law.

Reporting by Linda Sieg, Yuka Obayashi and Olivier Fabre; editing by Darren Schuettler

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