THE HAGUE (Netherlands) - Japanese banks should be investigated to see if they are holding assets looted by Japanese troops in the Dutch East Indies - now Indonesia - during World War II, a Dutch prisoner-or-war group has said.

In a letter to Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm on Friday, the group, known by its Dutch acronym Bego, called on the government to have a commission looking into Dutch wartime assets held by Swiss banks to expand its scope to include Japanese banks as well.

Bego's appeal came after the worldwide publication this week of nearly 2,000 names of people - many of them possible Holocaust victims - whose Swiss bank accounts have become dormant.

With 750 members, the association wants Tokyo to pay compensation for gold, silver and other assets stolen from Dutch prisoners of Japanese Imperial forces from 1941 until 1945.

It is one of several associations with represents survivors of the 140,000 Dutch troops and civilians held captive in Japanese PoW camps at the time.

Bego president Ed Herni said that if looted Dutch government gold was also taken into account the total would amount to "several billion guilders". One guilder equals about 73 Singapore cents.

"Cars, houses, hotels, companies, absolutely everything was stolen from us by the Japanese at the time," Mr Herni said. "At the end of the war we were repatriated, with a few clothes donated by the Red Cross as our only possessions."

He alleged that the assets of the local population and colonial banks ended up in Japan's Yokohama Bank, since absorbed by the Bank of Tokyo, according to the Dutch daily De Telegraaf.

In 1995, Tokyo expressed its "regret" officially for the events of World War II, and a month ago, Japans's Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto offered his personal apologies to Dutch victims of the Japanese when he visited, The Hague.

Mr Hashimoto laid a wreath of white carnations at the foot of a monument to those who suffered and died in Japanese camps, as survivors waved banners demanding that Tokyo pay its "debt of honor" by compensating them.

"The Germans have paid for the Jews, the Japanese should do the same for us," a demonstrator said.

Mr Hashimoto, in the Netherlands for an EU-Japan summit and bilateral talks, said he "understood" their reaction.

Out of the 140,000 Dutch prisoners of the Japanese, 25,000 died in captivity as a result of their privations. In addition, up to 300 Dutch women were forced to serve as "comfort women" in Japanese military brothels.
Check Japan banks for war loot: Dutch PoW group
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