South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak on Wednesday made a fresh demand that Japan takes responsibility for wartime sex slavery amid an escalating territorial dispute between the two countries.
Lee made the remarks in a speech at a ceremony marking the end of World War II. South Korea celebrates the date as Liberation Day, the anniversary of the end of Japan's harsh colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945.
He said Japan was "a close neighbour, a friend that shares basic values, and an important partner that we should work with to open the future".
"However, we have to point out that chain links tangled in the history of Korea-Japan relations are hampering the common march toward a better tomorrow in the Northeast Asian region, as well as bilateral ties", Lee said.
"Particularly, the issue involving mobilisation of 'comfort women' by the imperial Japanese military goes beyond relations between Korea and Japan," he said.
Many Korean and other Asian women were forced into sex slavery for Japanese soldiers during the war.
"It was a breach of women's rights committed during wartime as well as a violation of universal human rights and historic justice. We urge the Japanese government to take responsible measures in this regard", Lee said.
Lee made his demand amid a growing territorial dispute with Tokyo over islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) and rekindled sentiments over Japan's militaristic past.
Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have sharply worsened since Lee last Friday visited the Seoul-controlled islands, known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japan.
Japanese cabinet minister Jin Matsubara early on Wednesday visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where the Japanese war dead including war criminals are honoured, even after Seoul urged him to drop his plan.
Tokyo said Tuesday it would this month hold its first face-to-face talks with North Korea in four years, a move likely to raise eyebrows in Seoul.