LONDON — Thousands of British servicemen held prisoner by the Japanese during World War II will receive payments of $15,000 each, the government announced Tuesday, decades after the soldiers first began seeking compensation for their suffering.
The landmark payment plan — announced by Defense Minister Lewis Moonie four days before Remembrance Day, honoring military veterans — will cover up to 16,700 ex-prisoners, including camp survivors and their widows.
Successive British governments had resisted paying the ex-POWs compensation, not wanting to open the door to other such claims. But Moonie said the "unique circumstances of their captivity" warranted an exception.
Noting that more than 12,400 of the 50,016 British service personnel reported captured by the Japanese had perished, Moonie said the prisoners’ experiences were "often so appalling that … it has remained with them for the rest of their lives."
During the war, Japan made slave laborers of Allied POWs in Asia, forcing them to work under hellish conditions in jungles, mines and shipyards. Beatings, starvation and executions were common.
At Japanese camps, the POW death rate was 27 percent, compared with a 4 percent rate in Allied camps.
"We’ve said before that the country owes a debt of honor to them," Moonie told the House of Commons to cheers. "Clearly no financial sum can be adequate compensation … . This is a token, an ex gratia payment, which I hope will at least go some way to relieving the distress that they have suffered."
Sydney Tavender, 82, who served with a Gurkha regiment on the Malay peninsula, said he was pleased but called the payments long overdue. "Too many people have died who would have benefited."
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