The smouldering controversy will be rekindled tomorrow when the Japanese government announces a new initiative which falls far short of the compensation and apology being demanded by former British PoWs. The compromise, scheduled to be announced after a summit meeting between Tony Blair and the Japanese Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, is likely to cast a shadow over both this trip and the planned state visit to Britain in May by Emperor Akihito.
A senior Japanese diplomat told the Independent on Sunday yesterday that his government plans to expand the Murayama Peace and Friendship Initiative, set up by the then prime minister two years ago to fund holidays in Japan for former PoWs and their families. But Derek Fatchett, the Foreign Office minister responsible for the issue, has spoken to a PoWs' organisation about his frustration with the Japanese and his failure to win concessions on their behalf.
"I spoke to him when he came back from Japan last year," said Arthur Titherington, chairman of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors' Association, who is suing the Japanese government for compensation of pounds 14,000 for each of his 10,000 members. "He said, 'I don't have any good news and I can't say I made much of an impression on them. The only way I can describe it is like banging your head against a brick wall.'"
The last hope lies in Mr Blair's personal powers of persuasion. Yesterday, he laid a wreath at a cemetery containing the remains of 1,500 Commonwealth PoWs who died in captivity in Japan. But his aides warned reporters covering his trip not to expect a breakthrough on compensation.
Next month, Mr Titherington and his lawyer visit Japan for their next hearing. "It won't please my members one bit," he said of the latest compromise. "Damn it, they're 80 years old, and there is no way that cultural exchanges can benefit them. They will still go on the rampage when the Emperor comes."
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