South Korea, Japan strike landmark deal on comfort women issue

South Korea and Japan reached a landmark agreement Monday on the thorny issue of wartime sex slaves that has long strained relations, Seoul's foreign minister said.

The deal would be "final and irreversible" if Japan fulfils its responsibilities, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se told reporters after talks with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida.

The Japanese government feels "deep responsibility" over the comfort women issue and will contribute to a fund to help the women, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told a news conference after a meeting with Yun.

"Prime Minister Abe, as the prime minister of Japan, once again expresses his feeling of heartfelt apology and remorse to all those who, as 'comfort women', experienced much suffering and incurred incurable psychological and physical wounds," Kishida said.

Kishida said Japan agreed to offer one billion yen (S$11.7 million) in state compensation for "comfort women" who were sexually enslaved by Japanese troops during World War II.

"The comfort women issue... occurred with the involvement of the Japanese military... and the Japanese government acutely feels its responsibility," he said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expresses an "apology and repentance from the bottom of his heart" to the victims, Kishida said.

Seoul and Tokyo have been tussling over the wording of an agreement to settle the issue.

Up to 200,000 women, many of them Korean, are estimated to have been sexually enslaved by Japan during World War II. They were euphemistically known as "comfort women".