Japan returns war shrine stolen by Japanese soldiers from Korean Peninsula to South Korea

A Tokyo war shrine that some critics say glorifies Japan's past militarism will return an 18th century monument stolen by Japanese soldiers from the Korean Peninsula 100 years ago, a shrine official said Tuesday.

The monument, built in what is now North Korea in 1707 to commemorate Korea's defeat of Japanese invaders, but seized by Japanese forces at the start of the last century, will be handed over to the South Korean government following a ceremony at Yasukuni Shrine on Wednesday, shrine spokesman Shingo Oyama said.

South Korean officials have said that once the 2-meter- (6.5-foot- ) high stone epitaph is returned, Seoul will restore and display it before sending it to the North.

Seoul delivered an official request to Tokyo in June this year to return the monument following high-level negotiations with North Korea, where the two sides agreed on joint efforts seeking the statue's return among other reconciliation projects.

Troops of Japan's former Imperial Army removed the statue during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and it has since been at Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including World War II criminals.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has outraged neighbors South Korea and China by visiting the shrine four times since 2001.

The leader last went to Yasukuni in January 2004, and there has been mounting speculation that he could visit it before the end of this year.


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