Seoul -

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak on Wednesday called on Tokyo to “take responsible measures” for Korean women forced to provide sexual services to Japanese soldiers during the Second World War.

Lee brought up the longstanding dispute at a Liberation Day speech to mark the 67th anniversary of Korea's independence from Japan's 35-year colonial rule.

“Japan is a close neighbour, a friend that shares basic values and an important partner,” he said. But “chain links tangled in the history of Korea-Japan relations are hampering the common march toward a better tomorrow,” he said.

The comments come after Lee on Friday made the first visit by a South Korean president to the Dokdo group islands half-way towards Japan, which also claims them under the name Takeshima.

Lee has said the visit to the Seoul-controlled islets was to urge Japan to atone for human rights abuses during the war.

Time was running out to compensate the victims, now fewer than 60 in number and more than 80 years old, he said. Historians estimate about 200 000 women from Korea, China and other nations were forced to become so-called comfort women by the Japanese military.

Japan has said it considers the issue of wartime sex slaves closed after a 1965 agreement normalising diplomatic relations.

Also Wednesday, two Japanese ministers and about 50 legislators visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, despite objections from Seoul, which considers it a monument to honour war criminals. - Sapa-dpa