PoWs set to take war claim to Blair

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The Independent Online
FORMER PRISONERS of war held by the Japanese are threatening to sue the Government for compensation if their claims are rejected in a Tokyo court today.

Representatives of 25,000 former Allied PoWs and civilian internees will gather in the Tokyo District Court this morning to hear the judgment on their demand for compensation of $22,000 (pounds 13,500) each for suffering endured at the hands of their Japanese captors during the Second World War.

Lawyers for the group said last night they were pessimistic about the outcome of the case, but that they planned to take their legal struggle to the British courts if it failed today.

"There is an increasing mood of anger against the British Government, and a feeling that we are banging our heads against a brick wall ... in Japan," the group's British lawyer, Martyn Day, said in Tokyo last night. "We're coming to the view that much of the blame for the failure to gain justice for the PoWs and internees lies at the door of the ... Government."

The Japanese government has never disputed the PoWs' claims of beatings, sexual assaults, torture, deprivation and abuse during their captivity. But both the Japanese and British governments insist that issues of compensation were settled in the San Francisco Treaty of 1952, which exempted Japan from further reparations. At the time, former British PoWs received pounds 76.50 for their sufferings in captivity.

The PoWs have always claimed that the official British stance reflects political expediency and a desire to avoid offending Japan, which is a valuable trading partner of the UK and an investor.

But now they believe they have found a loophole in the treaty, which places responsibility for claiming compensation with the British Government.

A clause in the San Francisco Treaty stated that Britain is entitled to claim more compensation if Japan should subsequently reach a more generous settlement with another country - as it did with several countries, including Burma and Switzerland, during the 1950s.

Recently, Keith Martin, a former civilian internee and a plaintiff in the case, discovered in the Public Record Office confidential some Foreign Office correspondence dating from 1955, which noted this possibility but ruled out further claims "on general grounds of foreign relations, despite the possibility of domestic political embarrassment in connection with Allied prisoners of war".

The case was taken up personally by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, during his visit to Tokyo last January when he appealed to British people to put the past behind them.

Despite a co-ordinated public relations campaign by the two governments and the visit to Britain of the Japanese Emperor last May, the issue refuses to go away.

"Tony Blair ... assured us that he has the political will to pursue this case if it is within the Government's legal power," Mr Day said. "We're very clear that there is a case. "

The verdict was due just hours before a summit meeting between the Japanese Prime Minister, Keizo Obuchi, and the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, who is also pressing Tokyo over wartime atrocities perpetrated in Asia.

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