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Thu, Aug 10, 2000 - Page 2 News List

WWII Aboriginal soldiers demand Japanese pay up

By Liu Shao-hua  /  STAFF REPORTER

A group of nine Taiwanese Aboriginal veterans recruited by the Japanese colonial administration during World War II petitioned yesterday to the Executive Yuan's Council of Aboriginal Affairs (CAA) for assistance in requesting compensation from Japan.

They also hoped that their story would not be forgotten, and urged the building of monuments and incorporation of their tribulations in school history textbooks.

"We were forced to battle overseas, but when we came back to Taiwan, we just found the government and our nationality changed [from Japanese to Chinese]," said the petitioners. "We hope our story will be written in memory of the dead."

During World War II, the Japanese colonial government recruited around 4,000 Taiwanese Aborigines -- who were called the Aboriginal Volunteer Army (高砂義勇軍) -- and sent them to battlefields in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

The Japanese recruited Aborigines in order to take advantage of their ability to act as scouts for Japanese soldiers in jungles and mountains which were considered to be similar to their home environment in Taiwan's mountains.

"We were recruited as army laborers, but in fact we worked as real soldiers with Japanese soldiers at the front," said an Aboriginal veteran. "We should have the same compensation as Japanese veterans."

The colonial government recruited over 400,000 Taiwanese and Koreans to work as army laborers during the war. Only the Japanese, though, were considered soldiers.

The Japanese government passed legislation to compensate veterans from the former colonies in 1987. The application period was from 1988 to 1994. The compensation was around ?2 million per death.

According to Japan's Ministry of Health and Welfare, of the 30,304 Taiwanese army laborers who died, the families of 29,645 of them have applied for compensation. The other 659 people are Aboriginals. The petitioners said Aborigines living in mountainous areas had no way to get hold of this information and hence missed the application closing date.

Cheng Deng-shan (程登山), the representative of an association consisting of Taiwanese and Aboriginal veterans recruited by the Japanese, said over 2,000 Aboriginal army laborers never came back to Taiwan, and "no one knows whether they died or just disappeared."

"Their families did not have any evidence to ask for the compensation," Cheng said.

"The negotiations are expected to take some time and all of us are very old. We hope the government can appropriate some funds for us and then get it back from Japan," said Cheng.

Petitioners also asked the government to help take Aboriginal funeral tablets placed in the Yasukuni Jinjya (靖國神社) [a place in Japan to honor the dead soldiers] back to Taiwan.

"It's a matter of historical justice," the CAA's chairman Yohani Isqaqavut (尤哈尼) said to the petitioners, and "the Council will stand by you."

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