SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Wednesday commemorated International Memorial Day for Comfort Women amid rising diplomatic and trade tensions between Seoul and Tokyo.
The government-led national ceremony was held at the Kim Koo Museum and Library in central Seoul, with about 300 people from all walks of life, including elderly women sexually enslaved by the imperial Japanese army.
It is the second time that the government has hosted the event commemorating International Memorial Day for Comfort Women since it designated it as a national memorial day last year. It falls on Aug. 14, the date the late Kim Hak-sun, a former comfort woman, first publicly testified about Japan operating an organized military brothel program during World War II in 1991. It also is the eve of Liberation Day, which marks the end of the 1910-1945 Japanese colonial era.
Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual servitude in front-line Japanese brothels during World War II when the Korean Peninsula was a Japanese colony. Those sex slaves were euphemistically called comfort women.
The memorial day is getting more attention than ever as Seoul-Tokyo conflict has been intensifying after the latter imposed export restrictions on the former and removed the neighboring country from its whitelist of trusted trade partners.
The move was taken in apparent retaliation against South Korea's court rulings last year ordering Japanese firms that forcefully mobilized Korean laborers during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea to compensate victims.
During the ceremony, actress Han Ji-min read a letter written by a daughter of one of the sex slavery victims.
"When I heard my mother was a comfort woman for the Japanese military, I was too young to understand it," she read. "I cried and cried over my mother's pain and suffering that she had to undergo throughout her entire life."
Jin Sun-mee, minister of gender equality and family, said the government will take the lead in expanding the comfort women issue to a women's rights movement.
Former U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, who led the passage of the comfort women resolution at the House of Representatives in 2007, Acan Sylvia Obal of Uganda, an advocate for women's movements, and other prominent figures from the international community will deliver video messages during the ceremony.
Acan was awarded the first Kim Bok-dong Peace Prize, named after a human rights activist and survivor of sex slavery during World War II and given to women who contribute to raising awareness of wartime sexual violence.
Meanwhile, symposiums, mass rallies and exhibitions to mark the occasion were held across the country.