Pay-outs for PoWs a step nearer

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The Independent Online

Thousands of former Japanese prisoners of war are in line for extra compensation after Tony Blair gave his strongest hint yet that the Government would agree to a new pay-out.

Thousands of former Japanese prisoners of war are in line for extra compensation after Tony Blair gave his strongest hint yet that the Government would agree to a new pay-out.

The Prime Minister told MPs yesterday that he had "a good deal of sympathy" for the cause of those 7,000 former servicemen who had suffered in the Far East during the Second World War.

In answer to a question from the Labour MP David Winnick, Mr Blair said that Britain owed the prisoners of war (PoWs) a "debt of honour" and pledged that a decision would be announced during the Chancellor's pre-Budget statement next month. "I've always had a good deal of sympathy with the campaign mounted by Royal British Legion for additional compensation to be paid to Far East prisoners of war," he said.

"The suffering that they endured was appalling. The nation owes them a particular debt of honour for the sacrifice they've made and the memories they have had to live with... for the rest of their lives."

Mr Winnick called for compensation so that Britain could honour its obligations to "what is now a very small number of people who suffered so terribly as prisoners of war of the Japanese, treated as work slaves, tortured".

He added: "Surely it is not too much to ask that at long last we honour our obligations and do what is right?"

Mr Blair replied that Mr Winnick should "exercise patience" until the pre-Budget report was delivered by Gordon Brown on 8 November.

In the Fifties, the PoWs were paid just £76 in compensation as part of the Second World War peace treaties, but ministers have been influenced by recent agreements around the world. Canada and the Isle of Man both agreed recently to pay-outs of £10,000 to PoWs.

Ministry of Defence officials have been trying to define exactly who is entitled to payment but are said to be worried that a broad definition might open the floodgates to further claims from those who suffered in other conflicts.

When Japan successfully invaded Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore in 1942, thousands of British servicemen were captured and sent to PoW camps. Many of them were forced to work on the Burma-Siam railway, an experience described by veterans as close to a living hell and immortalised by the film The Bridge on the River Kwai.

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