S.Korea, Japan in 'comfort women' run-in
A South Korean court has ordered Japan to compensate 12 women who were forced to work in its wartime brothels, a ruling that drew a strong rebuke from Tokyo and threatened to rekindle a diplomatic feud between the two countries.
Reminders of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula are contentious for both sides, with many surviving 'comfort women' - a Japanese euphemism for the sex-abuse victims - demanding a formal apology and compensation from Tokyo.
Japan says the issue was settled under a 1965 treaty that normalised diplomatic ties, and the two countries agreed to "irreversibly" end the dispute in a 2015 deal.
But the Seoul Central District Court, a lower tier court, ordered Japan pay each of the women 100 million won ($A117,116), saying neither of the pacts can cover their right to seek compensation.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato called the verdict "unacceptable," urging Seoul to take "appropriate measures".
Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba summoned South Korean Ambassador Nam Gwan-pyo to lodge an "extremely strong protest".
South Korea's foreign ministry did immediately respond to a request for comment, but Ambassador Nam said in Tokyo that he would strive to prevent the ruling from having an "undesirable impact" on ties.
"I emphasised that it was most important for both sides to respond in a calm, restrained manner in order to resolve the issue," Nam told reporters.
After taking office in 2017, South Korean President Moon Jae-in effectively nullified the 2015 settlement, in which Japan issued an official apology and provided 1 billion yen ($A12.4 million) to a fund to help comfort-women victims.
Some historians estimate up to 200,000 Korean girls and women were forced to provide sex to Japanese troops during the colonial era, sometimes under the pretext of employment or to pay off a relative's debt.
"It was a crime against humanity that was systematically, deliberately and extensively committed by Japan in breach of international norms," Justice Kim Jeong-gon said in the ruling.
Only 16 registered Korean survivors are still alive, and six of the 12 victims behind the lawsuit have died since it was initiated in 2016.
The women's lawyer, Kim Kang-won, said he was "deeply moved" as the ruling acknowledged the Japanese government was accountable for the atrocity.