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Japan should avoid aggravating historical tensions in a diplomatic row over South Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms during World War Two, South Korea’s foreign ministry and prime minister have warned.

Last month, South Korea’s top court ruled that Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp must compensate four South Koreans for their forced labour during the war, a decision Japan denounced as “unthinkable.”

The binding court verdict is straining ties between the neighbours and could affect their bid to rein in North Korea’s nuclear programme, analysts say.

“The Japanese government must be clearly aware that excessive political emphasis on the present case will be of no help to the future-oriented relationship between South Korea and Japan,” the South’s foreign ministry said late on Tuesday.

It was referring to comments by Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono in a Bloomberg interview on Sunday, when he said, “It would be difficult for any country to do anything with the South Korean government” if a court could reverse Seoul’s pacts made under international law.

Kono’s remarks threatened to add fuel to the controversy, the ministry said.

“South Korea is very concerned that Japan’s leaders in positions of responsibility are disregarding the root cause of the issue…and continue to make comments that rouse our public’s emotions,” it added.

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