A South Korean court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by wartime victims against the Japanese government, local media reported.
In its ruling on the case of women forced to work as sex slaves during World War II, the Seoul Central District Court cited sovereign immunity, a concept in international law that allows states immunity from civil suits in foreign courts, Yonhap News Agency reported.
"When we recognize exemptions of sovereign immunity, diplomatic clashes will inevitably ensue," the agency quoted the court verdict as saying.
The court also cited a 2015 bilateral agreement between Seoul and Tokyo to resolve the dispute. It said the agreement "was reached after listening to opinions of the victims."
"Victims suffered tremendously, and the efforts and results by the South Korean governments seem to have been not enough to help them recover from their sufferings," the court said, adding that the issue should be resolved through "diplomatic" efforts.
Earlier in January, the same court ruled in favor of victims in another case and ordered Tokyo to give 100 million won ($91,300) each to 12 women who were abducted and kept in Japanese brothels during World War II. The ruling was rejected by Japan.
However, the ruling on Wednesday was made by a different bench of judges.
The victims expressed their dismay over the verdict and urged the government to take the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
"I've been working for all of the victims, not only for me. I hope you do know that," the agency quoted Lee Yong-soo, 92, as telling reporters outside the court.
Only 15 surviving victims are currently registered with the South Korean government, mostly in their 80s and 90s.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries remained at an all-time low over the past year after the court ordered Japanese firms to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan's colonial rule.
The ruling was rejected by Tokyo, which maintains that all claims related to its 35-year rule over the Korean Peninsula were settled under a 1965 bilateral agreement.
The issue of "comfort women," according to Japan, was resolved through a 2015 agreement with Seoul, under which Tokyo paid $9.1 million for the establishment of a foundation dedicated to supporting wartime sex slavery victims.
South Korea, however, disbanded the foundation last year, with the administration of President Moon Jae-in saying the deal signed during his predecessor Park Geun-hye's tenure was "seriously flawed."
The move angered Tokyo, which views the agreement as "final and irreversible."