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Settlement in Japanese Labor Case

November 29, 2000

TOKYO (AP) _ Relatives of 418 Chinese workers who died after brutal forced labor in World War II-era Japan have reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with a Japanese company _ an outcome that could set a precedent for scores of similar cases.

The Chinese forced into construction work near the Hanaoka mine died from beatings, illness and torture-chamber interrogations that followed a rebellion over slave-like conditions. In 1995, 11 survivors of those victims sued Kajima Corp., which ran the construction project on a river near the northern Japanese mine. The suit was finally settled Wednesday.

As compensation, the company will set up a $4.6 million fund for the families of all 986 Chinese who worked for Kajima, not just those who filed the suit, said Takashi Niimi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The amount Kajima agreed to pay out is unprecedented in a Japanese wartime compensation case. The settlement was also the first involving former Chinese laborers.

``This is the first real settlement of a forced labor suit,″ Niimi said. ``The company not only agreed to pay money but fully recognized its responsibility.″

Experts said the outcome could boost legal battles waged by other victims of Japanese wartime brutality, including women forced into sexual slavery by the imperial army. It also could aid plaintiffs who are suing two of Japan’s biggest conglomerates _ Mitsubishi and Mitsui _ for forcing them to work in slave-like conditions during the war.

``The settlement will serve as a catalyst in the nation’s moves to set up a legal framework to compensate wartime victims,″ said Shigeru Tokoi, a lawyer who specializes in human rights issues.

Historians estimate that from 1943 to 1945, 38,000 Chinese were shipped to Japan to work, mostly in mines and ports. Some went to the work on projects near the Hanaoka mine _ one of the most potent symbols of Japan’s brutality toward workers from Asian countries it conquered in the decades leading to World War II.

The Chinese victims in the case settled Wednesday were working on a Kajima project to redirect a river in the mining town of Hanaoka. Conditions were so bad that workers staged a revolt that was crushed by Japanese military forces. Many of the workers were tortured and killed during questioning following the mutiny.

Kajima Corp. apologized to victims in 1989, but the plaintiffs continued their suit, insisting the company pay compensation.

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