A South Korean municipality on Thursday removed an uninstalled statue symbolizing Korean laborers forcibly taken to Japan during its 1910-1945 rule over the Korean Peninsula from a sidewalk in Busan.
Civic group members had sought to erect the bronze statue of a gaunt man in front of the Japanese Consulate General in the southern port city on May 1, but were blocked by police and left it sitting near the consulate for weeks.
The removal by the municipality’s eastern district comes as ties between South Korea and Japan have been improving, despite historical wartime issues and a territorial row over South Korean-controlled islets that are also claimed by Japan.
Japan, which has opposed the statue, praised the move. “We’d like to continue following developments closely so the statue concerned will not be installed in front of the consulate,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a regular press briefing in Tokyo.
Japan has argued that the installment of such a statue in front of its consulate would violate the terms of the Vienna Convention, which requires the host state to prevent any disturbance of the peace at a diplomatic mission or impairment of its dignity.
On Thursday, activists angry at the statue’s removal held a rally nearby, while about 1,500 police officers were brought in to secure the area. A forklift was put near the statue ahead of its removal.
The statue was moved to the National Memorial Museum of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Occupation in the city by truck, Yonhap News Agency reported, adding that the statue will temporarily be displayed in its lobby.
The statue had been left on a sidewalk not far from a life-size statue of a girl representing Korean women who were coerced to work at Japan’s wartime military brothels. The latter statue depicting “comfort women” has been installed in front of the consulate.
The South Korean government had advised the group to install the forced laborer statue at the history museum, out of consideration for diplomatic protocol. But the group refused the request.
The municipal government, which has jurisdiction over the sidewalk near the consulate, had notified the group that it would remove the statue on Thursday if the group failed to do so on its own.