Confusion grows over Japanese war apology

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GROWING confusion over whether the Japanese prime minister's letter to John Major about wartime atrocities amounted to an apology has heightened the dismay of British ex-servicemen and civilians who are demanding compensation for their ill-treatment, writes Ian MacKinnon. While Tokyo's embassy in London insisted yesterday that the letter was a formal public apology, the Japanese prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama, maintained that it was not, but was simply an expression of remorse.

Former prisoners of war and civilian internees, who have started legal actions in Japan seeking compensation of about pounds 14,000 each, expressed weariness at the tortuous process at securing a proper apology from the Japanese. With the VJ Day commemorations looming, only an apology to those who suffered from the whole Government, linked to reparations, will be satisfactory, they say.

The confidential letter, in which Mr Murayama wrote of his "profound remorse for Japan's actions in a certain period of the past which caused such unbearable suffering and sorrow for so many people", was greeted warmly by Downing Street, but frostily by the veterans. However, the Japanese embassy in London stressed that the latter was an incorrect interpretation.

"The letter was from the Prime Minister to another Prime Minister so it isn't a personal apology. The feelings expressed were on behalf of the Japanese people," said a spokeswoman.

But Mr Murayama, whose fragile coalition government is under pressure from elements opposed to expressions of regret, stressed it was not an apology. "The content of the letter was the same as what I have told him [Mr Major] through diplomatic channels."

Bert Humphreys, secretary of the National Federation of Far East Prisoners of War, remained adamant that their initial reading had been correct. "There is still a strong body of opinion in Japan who think they have nothing to apologise for," he said.