TOKYO (AP) _ A private fund started with government money has decided to pay $18,500 in compensation to each of about 300 women forced to provide sex for Japan's World War II army, a fund official said Saturday.

Part of the money will be provided by the Japanese government, which had long refused to pay direct compensation despite pressure from Japanese and international groups.

Some of the surviving sex slaves are suing the Japanese government for compensation. Two of them testified Friday before a Tokyo court. They were the first victims to testify in the lawsuit.

Up to 200,000 Asian women, mostly Koreans, are believed to have been forced into military-run front-line brothels for the Japanese troops. Others were from China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Burma and the Philippines.

The Asian Women's Fund, set up by the Japanese government a year ago, decided on Friday to give $18,500 each to about 300 former sex slaves, Shinji Harada, a fund official, said.

The payments will be distributed in lump sums to the women starting this month or in August, Harada said.

The fund has already gathered about $3.7 million in private donations to make the payments and the government has agreed to cover the $1.8 million shortfall, Harada said.

The fund also decided to set aside $6.5 million in medical and welfare aid to about 350 women. Those funds will be provided entirely by the government over a period of about 10 years, he said.

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto also will write a letter to each of the women apologizing for their suffering, he said.

``It will clearly be an apology expressing remorse,'' Harada said. ``We believe the content of the letter will be satisfactory.''

Up to now, the Japanese government has repeatedly said that postwar reparations treaties had settled the issue of compensation. But many former sex slaves have said they want government compensation and a clear apology.

Many Korean victims have said they won't accept money from the fund unless the government also pays compensation.

On Friday, two plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Japanese government told the Tokyo District Court how they were abducted and forced into sexual slavery.

Liu Mianhuan, 69, and Li Xiumei, 68, are among a group of Chinese women who filed the lawsuit last August demanding $740,000 in compensation.

News reports quoted Liu as testifying that she did not want charity. She called on the government to ``bow down its head and apologize and give compensation,'' Kyodo News reported.

Li told reporters that the memories of the rapes still haunt her: ``I no longer have the confidence to go on living. If (the government) doesn't want to admit what it did, I'd rather just be killed.''

Liu and Li say they were abducted from their homes in China's Shanxi Province and taken to Japanese military camps in the same province, Liu in 1941 and Li in 1942.

Li was forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers for five months, while Liu was kept as a sex slave for 40 days, Kyodo said.