Japan has demanded the removal of all monuments in South Korea and elsewhere marking the sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II by the Japanese Imperial Army, government sources told the Yonhap News Agency. The demand came during a monthly round of bilateral talks last week, Yonhap reported Sunday.

The sources said South Korean officials rejected the demand, instead urging Japan to resolve "the military comfort women issue" if it wants to influence the monument-building movement among private groups. "It is not something that the (South Korean) government could guarantee," a government official said. "Our position is that Japan should come up with resolutions that can appease the victims."

Japan, however, maintains the issue was settled with a 1965 bilateral agreement related to Japan's 35-year colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Japan also issued an apology in 1993 that was accompanied by financial compensation.

The comfort women issue has been an obstacle to bilateral relations in recent years, with Seoul pressing for an apology and compensation for the victims. As many as 200,000 mostly Korean and Chinese women were coerced into providing sexual services for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Fifty-four are still alive in South Korea, averaging 88 years of age.