Chinese and Japanese lawyers visited a dozen victims of Japanese chemical weapons over the weekend in northeast China, collecting evidence to prepare a lawsuit against the Japanese government.
A leak last August killed one person and injured 43 others when barrels of mustard gas were dug up at a construction site in Qiqihar.
The chemicals were abandoned by the Japanese invading troops at the end of World War II.
The victims decided to sue the Japanese government last October.
One of the victims, construction worker Ding Shuwen, suffered severe injuries to the skin of his legs and feet that have left him unable to walk, according to Su Xiangxiang, one of the Chinese lawyers.
Although he has had an operation, he will still have to pay for skin grafts, Su said. The victims are asking for compensation from the Japanese government and a public apology.
The lawyers, including four Japanese and two Chinese, arrived in Qiqihar on Saturday and left Sunday night.
It is the first step of collecting evidence for the case, and another group of attorneys will travel to Qiqihar in two weeks. Su said that the case might be tried in Japan within the year.
Increasingly, Japanese lawyers are speaking for Chinese victims, one of the Japanese lawyers told China Central Television. It is only with this sort of support that Japan can win the respect of the Asian public, he said.
The lawyers belong to a group of more than 300 offering free legal assistance to Chinese victims since 1995.
During the war, Qiqihar was the base camp of the Japanese army's Unit 516. While the notorious Unit 731 was engaged in germ warfare research, Unit 516 specialized in biochemical weapons.
In the latest clean-up effort, ended Thursday, experts from China and Japan found a total of 542 chemical bombs in Qiqihar.
A local farmer, Dong Liyan, discovered the weapons on May 23 near his house in the city's Ang'angxi district. A Japanese airfield and a deployment regiment were located there during World War II.
(China Daily June 28, 2004)