Former POW wants an apology from Taro Aso

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    It’s an established fact that allied prisoners of war were forced to labor in coal mines operated Aso Mining Company, a firm that was owned by the family of Japan’s current Prime Minister, Taro Aso. Prisoners who survived the war have been seeking an apology and compensation from the Prime Minister and the successor company to Aso Mining.


    One surviving POW, Joe Coombs, is in Japan this week to bring attention to the issue:

    “I’m hoping for an apology and compensation, but I don’t hold out great hopes for the compensation part,” Coombs told Reuters on Friday.

    He was with Australian Army and fought in Malaya and Singapore, before being taken prisoner at the fall of Singapore in 1942. He arrived in Japan on December 7, 1942, the anniversary of pearl harbor.

    Coombs, who has not been back to Japan since World War Two, has been campaigning for more than 60 years for Japan to recognize its treatment of prisoners of war.

    In September 2007 he unsuccessfully sought a meeting with former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group’s summit in Sydney.

    The issue gathered new momentum when Aso became prime minister in September 2008, with opposition lawmaker Yukihisa Fujita pursuing the issue in the Japanese parliament.

    “The fact the prime minister’s family owned the coal mine we worked in has brought it all to light,” Coombs said.

    It seems doubtful that Coombs will get what he is seeking. Because the issue of compensation for allied POWs was settled in the Treaty of San Francisco, the successor companies to Aso Mining probably have no legal obligation to pay compensation. The Prime Minister, who was only 5-years-old when the war ended, has stated that he was too young to have any knowledge of what was happening at the time.

    The Nishi-Nippon, Mainichi, and Asahi newspapers have reported on Coombs’ trip to Japan. His story will probably also pop up all over the international media following the press conference Coombs will be giving Friday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo.

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