Japanese court rejects germ war claim

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A Japanese high court has rejected appeals by 180 Chinese who were demanding compensation for damage caused by Japan's Second World War germ warfare programme.

Separately, however, the government announced it would take responsibility for cleaning up decaying chemical weapons found in southern China last month that injured three people.

Upholding a lower court verdict, the Tokyo High Court acknowledged damage was caused by Japan's germ warfare in China but ruled that the Japanese government was not responsible for compensating Chinese victims.

The plaintiffs, all Chinese citizens, filed the case in 1997, demanding an apology and 10 million yen (£45,000) each from the Japanese government.

The plaintiffs claim that at least 2,100 Chinese died in outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, anthrax and typhoid from bacteria that were allegedly mass-produced by the Imperial Army's notorious Unit 731 based in the north-eastern Chinese city of Harbin.

In an August 2002 ruling, Tokyo District Court acknowledged Japan used biological weapons before and during the Second World War in violation of international conventions.

But the courts rejected the plaintiffs' demands, saying foreign citizens cannot seek compensation directly from the Japanese government under international law. It also said that Japan had already settled compensation issues under post-war peace treaties.