South Korea said the 2015 deal with Japan over South Korean women forced to work in Japan's wartime military brothels failed to meet the victims' needs.
South Korea's 2015 deal with Japan over Tokyo's wartime sex slavery was "seriously flawed," President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday, telling officials to re-examine the controversial agreement.
The issue of women forced into sexual slavery for Tokyo troops during the World War II is a hugely emotional subject that has marred ties between the South and its former colonial ruler, Japan.
Moon's comments came a day after Seoul's foreign ministry said the deal — which was pushed and endorsed by his predecessor, Park Geun-Hye — was faulty and had "failed to reflect the victims' views."
"I apologise for giving wounds of the heart to the victims, their families, civil society that support them and all other people because the agreement failed to sufficiently reflect a victim-oriented approach, which is the universal standard in resolving human rights issues," Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told a news conference.
No longer "irreversibly resolved"
Under the deal, endorsed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in's predecessor and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan apologised to former comfort women and provided 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) to a fund to help them.
The two governments agreed the issue would be "irreversibly resolved" if both fulfilled their obligations.
But Moon has said the South Korean people did not accept the deal.
The investigation concluded that the dispute over the comfort women, a Japanese euphemism for the girls and women, many of them Korean, forced to work as sex slaves in wartime brothels, could not be "fundamentally resolved" because the victims' demand for Japan's legal compensation had not been met.
Tokyo says the matter of compensation for the women was settled under a 1965 treaty with Seoul.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the agreement that the issue had been resolved “finally and irreversibly” had been confirmed by both governments.
"It is extremely important that this agreement be steadily implemented," Suga told a news conference before the report had been released.
"The government will continue tenaciously to urge the South Korean side at every opportunity to steadily implement this agreement."
Threat to cooperation on North Korea?
South Korea and Japan are key to international efforts to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes that it pursues in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
The comfort women issue has been a regular cause for contention between Japan and neighbours China and North and South Korea since the war.
Japan colonised the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945 and occupied parts of China before and during World War Two.
The South Korean government will review the result of the investigation and translate it into policy after consulting victims and civic groups that support them, Kang added.