A US congressional committee will likely pass this month a controversial bill demanding Japan's apology to World War II-era sex slaves, a lawmaker was quoted as saying yesterday.
Japan's conservative government has been lobbying hard against the bill, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently provoked outrage by insisting that Japanese soldiers did not coerce so-called "comfort women" into army brothels.
Thirty-six lawmakers of the 50-member House Committee on Foreign Affairs have shown support for the resolution, the Yomiuri Shimbun said, quoting senior member Eni Faleomavaega.
The Democratic congressman from American Samoa told the newspaper that the the bill would likely pass before a two-week recess in April and sent to the full House unless the Japanese parliament issues an apology first.
But in a nod to Japanese sensitivities, Congress may suspend deliberations during Abe's expected visit to Washington late next month, the daily said.
The bill -- sponsored by Representative Mike Honda, who spent part of his childhood in a wartime internment camp for Japanese-Americans -- demands an apology by Japan and outright recognition of its involvement in sexual slavery.
The bill gained momentum after the Democrats took control of Congress in January from US President George W. Bush's Republicans.
Historians say up to 200,000 young women, mostly from Korea but also from Taiwan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines, were forced to serve as sex slaves in Japanese army brothels.
In 1993, Japan's top government spokesman Yohei Kono issued a statement voicing "sincere apologies and remorse" and acknowledging that Japan's imperial army was involved "directly or indirectly" in sexual slavery.
But more than a dozen lawmakers of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party met on Thursday and proposed to tone down the 1993 statement. Abe agreed that the government would assist the party's new research on comfort women.