Japan Admits World War II Prisoners Worked at a Mine Owned by the Premier’s Family – by Norimitsu Onishi (New York Times – December 19, 2008)


TOKYO — The Japanese government has acknowledged for the first time that Allied prisoners during World War II were made to work at a coal mine owned by the family of Prime Minister Taro Aso, contradicting his longstanding denials.

The admission came after the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, under prodding from an opposition lawmaker, released documents showing that 300 Australian, British and Dutch prisoners of war worked at a mine owned by Aso Mining during the last four months of the war.

At a parliamentary session on Thursday, Foreign Ministry and health officials acknowledged the validity of the documents, about 43 pages retrieved from the basement of the Health Ministry building.

The acknowledgment was another embarrassment for Mr. Aso, whose popularity has plummeted since he took office three months ago. His erratic stewardship over an increasingly shaky economy and insulting remarks about groups including the elderly have lowered his approval ratings to about 20 percent and drawn public attacks from his own Liberal Democratic Party.

One of Japan’s wealthiest politicians, Mr. Aso, 67, has long denied what historians and survivors of his family’s coal mine have consistently said: that the mine, like many others, had used prisoners of war and forced laborers from Asia. In the 1970s, Mr. Aso was president of the family company, which is now called the Aso Group and is still run by his family.

Last month, when questioned in Parliament about the use of prisoners of war at his family’s mine, Mr. Aso said that “no facts have been confirmed” and that he was only “4 or 5 years old at the time.” Mr. Aso has yet to comment on the documents released by the Health Ministry.

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