S Korean man kills himself as dispute with Japan escalates

SEOUL (AFP) – An elderly South Korean man died yesterday after setting himself on fire outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul as a bitter diplomatic dispute over wartime forced labour compensation took a fatal turn.

The row has seen Tokyo restrict exports of chemicals vital to Seoul’s world-leading chip and smartphone industry in an escalation of a decades-long dispute over Japanese forced labour during World War II.

The man in his 70s started a fire inside his vehicle parked in front of the embassy building and later died after being treated in hospital, authorities said, adding around 20 disposable gas canisters were also found in this car.

The late man spoke to an acquaintance on the phone while driving to the Japanese Embassy from his home this morning and told the person that he is “setting fire” because of “his hostility against Japan”, a police officer at Seoul’s Jongno Police Station told AFP.

“His family members have also told us that his father-in-law was one of the victims of Japan’s wartime slavery.”

His suicide came as Japan’s foreign minister summoned the South Korean ambassador in Tokyo over the dispute which analysts say could batter the global tech market.

Taro Kono urged Seoul to “immediately take corrective measures” after South Korea’s high court ordered Japanese firms that used forced labour to compensate victims.

Japan says the issue was resolved under an agreement signed after relations with South Korea were normalised, which included a package of loans.

The foreign ministry also warned it would take unspecified “necessary measures” over the issue.

To Kono’s remarks, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry insisted Tokyo should “make efforts to heal the pain and wounds” of the Korean victims for the dispute to be “truly resolved”.

Tokyo had asked South Korea to hold an arbitration meeting by Thursday on the issue.