Japanese PM under fire for family's POW labour
By North Asia correspondent Shane McLeod
A company owned by Mr Aso's family used World War II POW labour in its coal mines.
Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso is again under pressure over a family connection to Australian Prisoners of War (POW) being used as labourers in Japan during World War II.
During World War II, a company owned by Mr Aso's family used allied POWs, including Australians, as labourers in its coal mines.
In Parliament, Mr Aso was asked about the POWs.
Mr Aso has been under pressure over wartime history after the chief of staff of Japan's Air Force was sacked for writing an essay in which he said the United States had 'lured' Japan into World War II.
Japan's PM won't apologise to Australian POW
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Taro Aso ... Mr Coombs's requests to meet with the Japanese PM have been rejected. (AFP: Toru Yamanaka, file photo)
Video: Ex-POW aussie seeks compo from Japanese PM (Lateline) The family company of Japan's prime minister has refused to apologise to an Australian prisoner of war, who was forced to work in one of its coal mines.
Nearly 65 years after being liberated from a Japanese POW camp, 88-year-old Sydney man Joe Coombs has travelled to Japan to seek an apology from Taro Aso, whose family owned the mine on the southern island of Kyushu.
Mr Coombs's requests for a meeting with the prime minister have so far been rejected.
A lush valley of terraced rice paddies has replaced the site of the hellish mine Mr Coombs worked in during the war.
He remembers digging coal for the Aso company for 12 hours a day. He also recalls the scraps of food or watery bowls of soup and the beatings with rifle butts and bayonets.
"You'll never forget the bad times. The memory will always be there," he said.
"With an apology the pain will go."
Mr Aso's family used 300 allied POWs and thousands of Koreans as slave labour in the Kyushu mines.
James McAnulty's father was a stoker for the British navy when his cruiser was sunk in the Java Sea.
"I've lived with this story of my father for 50 years and it has been a story of, a horrific story of humiliation and cruelty," Mr McAnulty said.
Patrick McAnulty was picked up by a Japanese warship and taken to the Kyushu coal mines.
James McAnulty says his father died in 1971 a broken man.
"A Japanese commentator asked me once, 'what do you want Japan to do for you' and I said, 'how can Japan give a son his childhood back?' I think that is what I lost - my father," he said.
While Mr Aso has so far refused to meet with Mr McAnulty and Mr Coombs, the prime minister's family company agreed to see them.
But after an hour inside Aso Corporation headquarters both men emerged more disappointed than before.
"They didn't want to apologise," Mr McAnulty said.
"They didn't want to admit that anything actually happened, despite the documented proof that we placed in front of them."
"I gained something. I received a company badge," Mr Coombs said.
Japanese Opposition MP Yukihisa Fujita has been lobbying on behalf of the former POWs and their families.
"It is very important for Mr Aso, who happens to be the prime minister, as a responsible person for Japan to do what is right for the nation and the whole world," he said.
Mr Aso has said he was just four or five-years-old when his family used the POWs to work in the mines, insisting he has no recollection of them.
That does not wash with Mr Coombs.
"There is no good pleading ignorance of the fact when he knows perfectly well that it did exist," he said.
"The slave labour and the POWs were here and did exist and he needs to morally apologise on behalf of the people of Japan."
That is not likely to happen. But Joe Coombs will leave Japan this weekend having made his point and having kept his dignity.
[b]June 18, 2009
JOE Coombs, the Digger who slaved as a prisoner of war in mines owned by the family of Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, will meet Aso Corporation officials next week to make his case for compensation and demand an apology.
The meeting is a breakthrough for the 88-year-old and other former POWs, because Mr Aso and the successor companies of Aso Mining have distanced themselves from the affair.
Despite evidence surfacing at least three years ago, it was not until January that Mr Aso clearly acknowledged that about 300 POWs were forced to labour in Aso Mining's Kyushu coalmines in 1945.
An estimated 10,000 Koreans slaved under harsh conditions throughout the war in the mines, many dying. After the war, the company became part of Aso Cement, which was renamed Aso Lafarge Cement in 2004. Aso Lafarge is 60.6per cent owned by Aso Corporation, and the rest by Lafarge, a French multinational cement company, but both insist there is no legal connection to Aso Mining.
Mr Aso, who was aged four or five at the time, said he never had personal knowledge of war prisoners working in the mines.
His younger brother, Yutaka Aso, is president of Aso Corp and Aso Lafarge, and the Prime Minister's wife, Chikako Aso, is an Aso Corp director.
Mr Coombs and two other POWs, John "Jack" Hall and Arthur Gigger, wrote to Mr Aso in February seeking an apology and compensation as "the honourable road for you, your family's company and Japan".
The meeting between Aso Corp and Mr Coombs, his two sons, and James McAnulty, son of a British former POW, was arranged this week by Ken Arimitsu, of the Japan Network for Redress of WWII Victims.
An Aso Corp spokesman yesterday confirmed the meeting would take place.
The Japanese government in 1955 paid a pound stg. 4.5 million settlement, which was distributed through the International Committee for the Red Cross to war prisoners from 14 countries, including Australia. But Mr Aso, has said the money was compensation for "unjust hardships", not slave labour.