N.Korea official urges Japan to apologize over forced labor

A senior North Korean official on a visit to South Korea called Friday for Japan to apologize for the wartime forced labor of thousands of Koreans.

Ri Jong Hyok made the comments at a forum in Goyang, north of Seoul, which represented a rare effort by the rival Koreas to discuss Japan's actions before and during World War II. Anti-Japanese sentiment runs deep in both Koreas, which were colonized by Japan for 35 years before their division at the end of the war in 1945.

"Japan for the past 70 years has not even acknowledged its variety of war crimes such as forced labor and sexual slavery, let alone apologizing for them or compensating the victims," said Ri, vice chairman of North Korea's Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee.

"(Japan) has been denying, concealing and downplaying its crimes and has even started praising them, taking steps toward creating a social atmosphere that would favor a reinvasion (of the Korean Peninsula)," he said.

The forum, which drew participants from seven other countries beside the Koreas, was focused on discussing Japan's forced mobilization of laborers in the region during World War II and how to boost exchanges now among Asia-Pacific countries. Ex-Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who has been apologetic about Japan's past wrongdoing, was also invited.

Officials from South Korea's national government said they have no plans to meet Ri and four other visiting North Korean officials during their stay in the South.

The Koreas have rarely taken joint steps to tackle history and other issues stemming from their colonization because of their decades-long split. But Seoul has been trying to facilitate exchanges with its rival in recent months following the North's shift to diplomacy after a series of nuclear and missile tests.

The Koreas have been holding various talks amid larger nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea. South Korea's Transportation Ministry said North Korea on Friday proposed connecting international air routes along the western and eastern coasts of the peninsula during working-level talks on aviation cooperation.

In 2010, South Korea banned the country's aircraft from using North Korean airspace as it imposed unilateral sanctions on the North following an attack on a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors.