Compensation for Guam WWII atrocity survivors

Japanese prisoners of war at Guam bow their heads after hearing Emperor Hirohito make the announcement of Japan's unconditional surrender, ending World War II. - THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES/AFP/File

Hagatna (Guam) (AFP) - The US government has launched a compensation scheme for survivors of Japanese atrocities in Guam, 73 years after hostilities ended on the Pacific island.

Japan occupied Guam on December 10, 1941, -- three days after the Pearl harbour attack -- and remained there until US Marines liberated the island on July 21, 1944, after a bloody month-long battle.

The indigenous Chamorro population was brutalised during the occupation, with an estimated 1,100 killed and others tortured and forced into slave labour camps to fortify the island against a US assault.

About 3,000 survivors are still alive on Guam -- a non-incorporated US territory -- and have been seeking compensation since 1977.

They sought redress from Washington because under a 1951 treaty the United States absolved Japan of future individual war claims.

Former US president Barack Obama signed off on legislation creating the compensation scheme in December last year.

Washington's Foreign Claims Settlement Commission began accepting applications for its Guam War Claims Program on Tuesday and said survivors had 12 months to lodge their paperwork.

Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, who represents Guam in the US legislature, welcomed the development.

"This program brings us one step closer to closing this painful chapter in our history and finally recognising our manamko (elders) for their experiences and patriotism during the occupation," she said.

Under the law, the surviving spouse or children of a Guam resident who died during the Japanese occupation, or as Guam was being liberated by the US military, can claim $25,000.

Rape or severe personal injury results in a $15,000 payment, while those subjected to forced labour receive $12,000 and those who endured internment qualify for $10,000.

One sticking point remains how the compensation will be funded. Under current plans it would be paid with money that has already been earmarked for Guam.

"(It's) like taking out from our pocket to put into our pocket," said Frank Blas Jr., chairman of the Guam War Survivors Foundation.

"I’m hoping that there is wisdom and sincerity on the part of the United States to finally give closure to the survivors and provide them reparation that truly comes from them."

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