Subject: Kyodo: Panels on E. Timorese 'Comfort Women' to Be Displayed in Dili

Feature: Panels on E. Timorese 'Comfort Women' to Be Displayed in Dili

Keiji Hirano

TOKYO, Feb. 11 (Kyodo News) -- Human rights campaigners in Japan and East Timor have jointly made a set of panels for exhibition showing testimonies of former ''comfort women'' in the newly independent nation so the local people can learn about their history during the occupation by the Japanese military.

While the 43 panels were initially created in Japanese for a display at the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace, or WAM, in Tokyo last year, the campaigners in Japan translated them into the official East Timorese language, Tetun, and handed them over to counterparts there earlier this month, they said.

The panels will be displayed at a public hall in the East Timorese capital Dili from Feb. 20, the day when the Japanese military advanced there in 1942, with Mina Watanabe, WAM's secretary general, expecting the visitors ''to know the history of the wartime sexual violence in their country.''

The research on former comfort women in East Timor started in 2000, with the campaigners -- WAM and the East Timor Japan Coalition as well as the HAK Association, or the association for human rights and justice in East Timor -- interviewing the survivors about their wartime experiences.

''Young East Timorese researchers came to know the history of wartime sexual violence for the first time through the interviews, and were prompted to record it by themselves,'' Watanabe said.

The move stirred six of the victimized women, a man born of a comfort woman and a Japanese soldier, and others involved in the wartime brutalities to appear at a public meeting in January 2006 in Dili to directly talk to some 200 local people.

The women said no one had ever asked them to talk about the wartime experiences until the researchers visited them.

In a bid to share the research outcomes with the public, one of the East Timorese researchers visited Japan last year to attend talk sessions in several cities, including Sendai, Tokyo and Osaka.

The panels, which also show how the Japanese military invaded East Timor and set up some 20 comfort stations there, are the fruits of the efforts, according to Watanabe.

''We expect the panels to be also displayed at schools and churches in East Timor and the visitors, encouraged by the exhibitions, to provide us with unknown information about the wartime history,'' she said.

For the translation into Tetun from Japanese and the creation of the full-color panels that stand long use, the campaigners collected some 1.3 million yen from the public, said Akihisa Matsuno, a member of the East Timor Japan Coalition.

''We hope we could compile something like a catalogue of the panel that people can easily pick up if we could raise more money,'' said Matsuno, also professor at Osaka University.

East Timor officially gained independence in 2002 after two-and-a-half years under U.N. administration following a vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999.

On Monday, a gunfight broke out between the government and rebel forces in East Timor, in which President Jose Ramos-Horta was reportedly injured seriously.

Matsuno said he hopes the country will be able to return to its normal state and that the exhibition of the panels will be launched as scheduled.

see also ETAN: Background on Sexual Violence Against East Timorese Women During the Japanese Occupation

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