Photo/IllutrationThe statue of a drafted laborer unveiled on Aug. 12 in front of Yongsan Station in Seoul (Yoshihiro Makino)

SEOUL--Statues unveiled in two cities in South Korea on Aug. 12 symbolizing laborers drafted to Japan from the Korean Peninsula will likely add to the growing rift between Tokyo and Seoul.

A ceremony was held on a square in front of Yongsan Station in central Seoul by a citizens group to install a statue there even though the site is on state-owned land.

South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport does not allow statues to be erected on state-owned property, and ministry officials said appropriate legal procedures would be followed.

However, it remains to be seen if the ministry will proceed with any move that could lead to open confrontation with the citizens group.

Later on Aug. 12, another statue of a father and daughter representing drafted laborers, who were sent to work in Japanese factories before and during World War II, was unveiled within a park in Incheon, where many Japanese munitions and other factories operated during the war.

While past statues representing "comfort women" have proven a thorn in bilateral relations, this is the first time statues of drafted laborers have been installed.

The moves apparently reflect the harsher stance the administration of President Moon Jae-in is taking toward Japan on historical recognition issues, as more statues may be erected.

A citizens group is scheduled to hold a news conference on Aug. 15, the day South Korea celebrates liberation from Japanese colonial rule at the end of war, near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

The group is expected to reiterate its plan to install a statue of a drafted laborer next to the one already erected of a young girl representing Korean comfort women, who were forced to provide sex to Japanese military personnel before and during World War II.

There is another plan to install a statue in October of a drafted laborer in front of the Japanese consulate-general on Jeju Island.

Between 1939 and 1945, about 700,000 individuals from the Korean Peninsula are believed to have been mobilized to work in Japanese factories.

Under the 1965 agreement to normalize diplomatic ties between Japan and South Korea, Tokyo provided funds in the name of economic cooperation and left compensation to individual drafted workers up to the South Korean government.

Both governments formally consider payment of compensation to drafted workers to be an issue that has long been resolved.

However, some drafted workers have taken the South Korean government to court on the grounds the $300 million (equivalent to 108 billion yen at that time) provided by Japan as economic cooperation funds had not been properly distributed.

South Korean plaintiffs have also filed lawsuits against such Japanese companies as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. and Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp. demanding compensation.

At least 11 verdicts have been issued ordering the companies to pay compensation of about 100 million won (about 9.5 million yen) each.

A new lawsuit is scheduled to be filed on Aug. 14 against the South Korean government at the Seoul Central District Court demanding 100 million won in compensation for each plaintiff.

Meanwhile, there are plans to install more statues representing comfort women.

According to the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, nine new statues will be erected in Seoul and other locations by Aug. 15. That would lead to about 80 such statues throughout South Korea.

A company operating a bus service in Seoul plans to install a plastic statue of a comfort woman on a seat in five vehicles from Aug. 14 until the end of September.

The Seoul city government, which manages bus operations, has given its approval for those statues.

The South Korean government is planning to complete by year-end its review of the process behind the December 2015 agreement reached between Japan and South Korea to provide support to former comfort women.

Moon has repeatedly said that a majority of South Koreans are opposed to that bilateral agreement.

For the Aug. 15 ceremony to celebrate liberation from Japan, the Moon administration is planning to invite for the first time two former comfort women. A former drafted worker has also been invited to participate in the ceremony.

An official with the South Korean Ministry of the Interior and Safety said the ceremony would be an opportunity for reconciliation and unification among the people.

Japanese officials have asked Seoul through diplomatic channels to refrain from any action that would negatively affect bilateral relations.

Attention will be focused on what Moon says in his speech at the Aug. 15 ceremony.