North Koreans Demand Japan Compensate Victims of WWII Atomic Bomb Attacks

North Korean survivors of the American atomic bombings in Japan at the end of World War II demanded Tuesday that Tokyo apologize and pay compensation given to other victims.

The North's Korean Association of Atomic Bomb Victims for Anti-Nuclear Peace told a news conference in Pyongyang that 382 survivors of the attacks remained alive in North Korea.

"Even though living in other countries, we are all the same victims of the atomic bombs," said Pak Mun Suk, the group's vice president, according to broadcaster APTN. "The Japanese government should apologize and make compensation to the victims in our country as soon as possible."

Kazuhiro Kanayama, a Japanese Health Ministry official who oversees atomic bomb victim issues, said he was unaware of the press conference in North Korea and unable to comment.

The Korean peninsula was a colony of Japan from 1910 until the end of the war in 1945.

The North Korean association said some 40,000 Koreans were killed in the 1945 atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Another 30,000 Koreans survived the attacks, and 2,000 returned to what became North Korea after the peninsula's division following the war.

The figures were also confirmed by Kwak Ki-hun, a South Korean who is a former chairman of an atomic bomb victims' group.

Japan has in the past given financial assistance to victims living there, and reluctantly agreed in 2002 to also aid others abroad who obtain certificates offered only in Japan. But almost all North Koreans are restricted from leaving their country because of the repressive communist regime.

There have also been concerns in Tokyo that any compensation paid to North Koreans would be diverted to the government.

Kanayama said "various issues" have made it difficult for Japan to provide support for atomic bomb victims in North Korea. He did not elaborate.

Japan and North Korea have no formal diplomatic relations, and informal relations have become increasingly bitter over Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s. Many in Japan doubt North Korean explanations of the abductees' fate.

Tokyo has also maintained economic sanctions against the North over its October 2006 nuclear test.