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By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Chinese lawyers said on Thursday they had found new evidence of women forced to work as wartime sex slaves for Japanese occupying troops, including previously unpublished confessions by soldiers involved.
The All China Lawyers Association, a government-sponsored organisation, published the results of an investigation that uncovered the names of 33 "war criminals" and two Chinese women who said they had been forced to work as "comfort women".
Tokyo has refused to pay direct compensation to any of the estimated 200,000 mostly Asian women forced to work in its military brothels before and during World War Two, saying all claims were settled by subsequent peace treaties.
Japan acknowledged in 1993 there had been a state role in forcing Korean and Chinese women into military brothels and in 1995 set up a fund to provide compensation to survivors.
But many refuse to accept the money, saying the compensation should come directly from the Japanese government. Some ultra-conservative politicians and scholars deny direct government involvement and say most of the women were prostitutes.
The sex slavery case is a reminder that wartime memories remain potent in China.
Kang Jian, one of the lawyers behind the investigation, told Reuters that even with ties improving between China and Japan, it was still important to press the women’s claims for compensation and not to bury the issue.
"There is no contradiction. Getting to the truth of the matter and demanding an apology to solve this problem can only improve relations between the two peoples and ensure proper, friendly ties in the future," she said.
Kang said they had found the names and confessions of 33 Japanese who were then soldiers in the Imperial Army hidden away in Chinese archives, along with details of brothels they ran all over the country, including in Beijing and the then-capital Nanjing.
The details, including the soldiers’ names and dates of birth, have been published in a report released on the lawyers’ association website (www.chineselawyer.com.cn).
But Kang said it was not their intention to go after the 33.
"They have already owned up, which I think shows they acknowledge this problem. We don’t want to put any pressure on them and we’re not going to go looking for them in Japan," she added.
Japanese courts have rejected numerous claims for damages from the former sex slaves though Kang said she was not deterred and that they would be lodging another case next week in Japan.
"We want to use the law to make sure that history is made clearer," she said.
"There are probably many other women out there we have yet to discover. There is a lot of psychological pressure on them. They don’t want to admit it," Kang added. "We will keep on investigating." (Editing by Sugita Katyal)