Compensation Claims

Tokyo court rejects damage claims by China victims of WWII chemical weapons left by Japan

A Tokyo court rejected compensation claims Monday by a group of Chinese plaintiffs over the death and the sickening of 44 people after construction workers broke open several barrels of World War II poison gas abandoned by Japanese troops.

The plaintiffs — 43 people injured and five relatives of one who died in the 2003 accident in Qiqihar city, northeastern China — demanded the Japanese government pay 1.43 billion yen ($16 million) in damages.

Japan's government was not responsible for the accident, the court said, noting, however, residents faced imminent danger from chemical weapons left behind in the area.

The plaintiffs have complained of painful blisters, weakened vision, coughs and chronic fatigue.

The abandoned chemical weapons are part of the legacy of Japan's wartime conquests in East Asia that still complicate Tokyo's relations with Beijing.

In Beijing, Kang Jian, a lawyer who fights for the rights of Chinese forced to work as slave laborers and "comfort women" for Japan before and during the war, said the Japanese court had no reason to reject the compensation request.

"I think it helps the Japanese government to shirk its responsibility," Kang said.

Construction workers were digging up the ground when they found several barrels leaking liquid and tried to open them. Workers and nearby residents were among those injured. The victim who died was a construction worker.

The suit, filed at the Tokyo District Court in 2007, also demanded that Japan cover medical costs and income losses caused by health problems blamed on the accident.

Monday's ruling said the Japanese government could not be held responsible for its failure to prioritize safety inspections at the particular site, and thus need not pay compensation to the victims, said Satoshi Ibori, a Japanese lawyer representing the plaintiffs.

Ibori called the ruling "extremely unfair."

The court, however, clearly linked the death and injuries to the poison gas weapons that Japan's wartime military abandoned in the city, as well as their potential danger that Tokyo could have predicted, Ibori said.

Ibori said he planned to appeal the ruling to a higher court.

Tokyo has agreed to pay 300 million yen ($3.3 million) in one-time compensation to the Qiqihar victims. But the plaintiffs say that amount would not cover their medical costs and income losses.

At home, Japan spends some 3 billion yen ($33 million) annually to provide free medical care and other social benefits to about 4,500 Japanese who worked at three chemical weapons factories in China during the war, the lawyers said.

Japan has removed 37,000 chemical weapons in China, but at least 700,000 are believed to remain.

(Published by Fox News – May 24, 2010)

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