LEAD: Nagano court dismisses damages suit over Chinese forced laborers+
(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)NAGANO, Japan, March 10_(Kyodo) _ (EDS: UPDATING)
The Nagano District Court dismissed Friday a damages suit filed by a group of former Chinese laborers, and family members of those already deceased, who were forced to work under harsh conditions at a construction site in Nagano Prefecture during World War II.
After rejecting the plaintiffs' demand for 140 million yen in compensation, Presiding Judge Jiro Tsuji took the unusual step of offering a personal observation, "Preceding generations did some terrible things, and I wish I could offer (the plaintiffs) some relief."
He added that he hoped that the case can still be resolved outside the courtroom should the plaintiffs be unable to achieve compensation based on legal arguments.
The plaintiffs had demanded that the state and four construction companies -- Kajima Corp., Kumagai Gumi Co., Taisei Corp. and Tobishima Corp. -- pay the compensation.
The defendants, meanwhile, argued that the state cannot be held responsible for actions taken before the National Redress Law went into force, and that the plaintiffs' right to demand compensation no longer exists because more than 20 years had elapsed since the period in question.
The plaintiffs comprise three former laborers and the family members of four deceased laborers, who filed the lawsuit in December 1997.
When the trials concluded last May, the presiding judge recommended an out-of-court settlement. However, the parties failed to reach agreement, resulting in Friday's ruling.
According to the suit, between May and July 1944, the plaintiffs were taken from China to hydroelectric power plant construction sites in Nagano and forced to do hard labor, including digging tunnels and carrying earth, until Japan's surrender in August 1945.
The plaintiffs demanded that the defendants pay, for every laborer, 20 million yen in damages and 15,000 yen as wages in arrears based on the promised daily wages of 5 yen. They also demanded that an apology be printed in a newspaper.
Plaintiff Cang Xinshu, 79, still has marks on his back from beatings by his supervisor.
Cang, who was a member of the Eighth Route Army resisting Japanese occupation, was captured by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1944 and was forcibly taken to Nagano.
At the construction site in Otaki village, forced laborers worked two shifts day and night, subsisting only on wheat flour cakes mixed with rice bran. Cang staved off his hunger by collecting edible plants from the mountains, he said.
Forced labor continued to affect Cang's life even after his return to China. When he found a job in the military, he left after his supervisor told him, "You will never be promoted because we do not know what you've been doing in the enemy country."
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs said more than 3,700 Chinese were forcibly taken to Nagano, with about 260 dying from injuries and malnutrition.
Japan drafted a number of Chinese and Koreans to work at mines, ports and power station construction sites to make up for a wartime labor shortage. An estimated 40,000 Chinese were involved.
Cang, the only plaintiff to travel to Japan, arrived a day before the ruling.
"I want to clear the humiliation suffered by the Chinese. That is why I came here," he said.