Seoul, Feb 1 (AFP) Kim Bok-dong, who became a figurehead for the suffering endured by South Korean “comfort women” sexually enslaved by occupying Japanese forces in the Second World War, will be laid to rest on Friday.Also Read - BTS Boys Be Exempted From Military Service? South Korea's National Assembly Discusses Law

The 92-year-old was a symbolic figure for weekly rallies in front of the Japanese embassy that started in 1992, demanding a full, heartfelt apology from Tokyo for the horrific wartime abuse. Kim, who died Monday of cancer, was only 14 when the Japanese military knocked on her parents’ door and requisitioned her for what they said was wartime work in a factory. Also Read - Squid Game Leads to Real-Life Tragedy - North Korean Man Shot Dead, Students Imprisoned

Instead, she found herself on the battlefield in a brothel where soldiers had sex with her from morning until evening, every day for years — one of tens of thousands of girls used as so-called comfort women by the Japanese military. Also Read - International Shooting Federation Increases Asia's Olympic Quota Places From 38 to 48

“It was sexual slavery, there’s no other word for it,” Kim told AFP in 2013.

Hundreds gathered near the Japanese embassy on Friday, the culmination of a five-day commemoration of Kim, during which thousands visited the memorial altar set up at a Seoul hospital to pay their respects.

Among the visitors to the altar was President Moon Jae-in, who said in January Tokyo should take a “more humble” attitude to history.

Kim was one of as many as 200,000 women — many Korean but there were victims from other parts of Asia too — abused by Japanese soldiers, and the emotive issue has marred the relationship between South Korea and its former colonial ruler Japan for decades.

Japan occupied the Korean peninsula from 1910 until its defeat at the end of World War II in 1945.

But it was not until the early 1990s that the issue of comfort women came into the spotlight with the growth of the women’s rights movement in South Korea, and Kim was one of only a handful of survivors who ensured their abuse was not forgotten.

In 1993, Japan issued a formal apology but some politicians since then — including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — have backtracked and caused outrage by questioning whether the girls were really forced into prostitution.

In 2007, Abe triggered a region-wide uproar when he said there was no evidence that Japan directly forced women to work as sex slaves.

Mourners Friday followed the vehicle carrying Kim’s remains through the streets of Seoul with paper cutouts of yellow butterflies, symbols of sexual slavery victims, in their hands.

The car stopped near the Japanese embassy.

“I feel thankful for others who have come to join in remembrance of her life,” said Jo Gyu-suk, a 39-year-old woman.

Japan says all compensation issues related to its colonial rule of the Korean peninsula were settled by the 1965 deal that saw Tokyo and Seoul restore diplomatic ties and included a reparation package of about USD 800 million in grants and cheap loans.

When Kim finally returned home after her wartime ordeal, she initially lied to her family about what had happened. But she could not face marriage after what she had been through.

“I was born a woman but I never lived as a woman,” she says. Faced with her mother’s insistence that she marry, she eventually broke down and confessed what she had been through.

Kim says her mother never recovered and later died from the shock.

Kim herself never married or had children, and became the owner of a fish restaurant in the bustling city of Busan. (AFP)

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.