Japanese PM accused of double-speak

On a day for remembrance around the world, two old soldiers pay their respects

The Japanese Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, yesterday attempted to reconcile his divided government and appease the world by offering two separate statements on the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Although Mr Murayama's address to a televised press conference offered the strongest statement of contrition yet for his country's brutal conduct during the war, it was insufficient to satisfy represent- atives of British former prisoners of war. "Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries," Mr Murayama said. "In the hope that no such mistakes be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of remorse and state my heartfelt apology."

But at the official ceremony, attended by 8,000 bereaved families and dignitaries, including Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko and rep- resentatives of right-wing groups, Mr Murayama omitted reference to an "apology" and to "aggression", offering instead "condolences" to the wronged countries.

It was left to Takako Doi, the speaker of the lower house of the Japanese Diet, to detail the country's war record. "We have yet to atone for the history of colonial rule, aggression, violation of human rights, discrimination and insult in Asia, and we have yet to achieve a real reconciliation with Asian people," she said.

Opposite the Nippon Budokan hall where the ceremony took place, right- wing groups broadcast ferocious slogans and thousands of people, including uniformed ex-soldiers offered prayers to the souls of Japan's war dead. "If Murayama and the politicians want to apologise," one group suggested, "let them do it by cutting open their bellies." Ten ministers defied the Prime Minister's wishes by offering prayers at a shrine which honours the souls of seven executed Class A war criminals as well as Japan's 3 million war dead.

Although Hiroki Fuji, the Japanese ambassador in London, insisted that Mr Murayama's apology had been approved by the Cabinet and was therefore not just a personal statement, and both Downing Street and the Foreign Office welcomed the speech, British war veterans and former prisoners rejected the apology as inadequate. The Foreign Office said: "We welcome this official statement of apology by the Japanese prime minister. In addition, we are particularly pleased that at his press conference he referred specifically to British prisoners of war and again apologised to them."

But official approval cut no ice with ex-servicemen's organisations. Arthur Titherington, secretary of the Japanese Labour Camps Survivors' Association, said: "I am very disappointed. Here was the ideal opportunity for the Japanese government to wipe the slate clean by unequivocally apologising and agreeing to compensate the people they treated so barbarically."

"Although Mr Murayama has given his own apology, which I accept, it has not been given on behalf of the government itself. For both the Japanese and ourselves it means that this dark cloud will continue to hang over our heads."

Graham Downing, national chairman of the Royal British Legion, said: "It is simply unclear what the message is in his statement. The door had been opened by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when they formally apologised earlier this month."

Mr Murayama rejected the possibility of further compensation for victims of the war, and Martyn Day, the lawyer representing those suing the Japanese government, said: "The fact that the Japanese are still finding it so difficult to say sorry for all they did in the war is an indication of how far they have to go to fully understand that what they did was so wrong."

Mr Murayama's words received a mixed reaction from other governments. The Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, described it as "comprehensive" while the Chinese foreign ministry welcomed the gesture but deplored those Japanese who are "still unable to adopt a correct attitude towards history".

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