South Korea’s top court on Thursday ordered a Japanese company to compensate 10 Koreans for forced labor during Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, in the second such ruling in a month that again drew strong protests from Japan.

The latest verdict on Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was widely expected after the Supreme Court ruled in late October that another Japanese company must compensate four Korean men for similar colonial -era forced labor. The Oct. 30 ruling, which followed more than five years of deliberation at the court, was the first of its kind.

The back-to-back rulings in South Korea are threatening to undermine relations with Japan, which has argued the issue of forced laborers was settled when Tokyo and Seoul signed a treaty in 1965 that restored diplomatic ties. The rulings are expected to affect similar lawsuits pending in South Korean courts.

In two separate verdicts involving 10 forced laborers or their bereaved family members, the Supreme Court said Thursday that Mitsubishi must provide 80 million to 150 million won ($71,190-133,510) in compensation to each of the plaintiffs.

In the rulings, the court said that the 1965 treaty cannot prevent individual rights to seek compensations for forced labor because Japanese companies’ use of such laborers were “acts of illegality against humanity” that was linked to Japan’s “illegal” colonial rule and wartime aggression.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said later Thursday the ruling is “extremely regrettable and absolutely unacceptable.”

Korean victims of Japan's forced labor and their family members raise their hands in celebration after the Supreme Court's ruling ordering Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate them in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. South Korea's top court has ordered a Japanese company to compensate 10 Koreans for forced labor during Tokyo's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The signs read:
Korean victims of Japan’s forced labor and their family members raise their hands in celebration after the Supreme Court’s ruling ordering Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate them in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. South Korea’s top court has ordered a Japanese company to compensate 10 Koreans for forced labor during Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The signs read: ” Mitsubishi Heavy Industries apologizes and compensates to victims.”(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

“The ruling not only imposes unfair damages to Japanese companies but fundamentally overturns the legal foundation of friendly and cooperative relations that Japan and South Korea have built since the 1965 normalization,” Kono said.

Japan made similar protests when the South Korean court ruled last month that Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. should provide compensation of 100 million won ($87,680) to each of the four plaintiffs. Kono said at the time that Japan could potentially take the case to the International Court of Justice.

Seoul and Tokyo, both key U.S. allies in the region, are closely linked to each other economically and culturally. But their history and territory disputes stemming from the Japan’s colonial occupation have often complicated Washington’s efforts to strengthen trilateral cooperation to deal with North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s growing influence in the region.

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Source: The Associated Press