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POW sues Japanese company

A survivor of the Bataan Death March sued a Japanese company on Wednesday, saying he was beaten by employees of Mitsui & Co. Ltd. and forced to work as a slave for the huge conglomerate after being captured during World War II.

The lawsuit brought by Lester I. Tenney, 79, of San Diego is the first filed under a new California law that allows victims of slave labor to sue multinational corporations in state courts.

"I want them to apologize. I want them to say to the world, "We're sorry for what we did,' " said Tenney, a retired Arizona State University finance professor.

Mitsui forced American POWs to work in a coal mine considered too unsafe for Japanese workers, Tenney said outside the Superior Court building where the suit was filed.

Each day, Japanese soldiers escorted POWs to the mine near Nagasaki, where Mitsui employees beat and tormented the Americans as they worked, Tenney said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Defendants include Mitsui and several subsidiaries of the Tokyo-based company.

Mitsui, one of Japan's largest international trading companies, is involved in a wide range of businesses, including mining, insurance, shipping and commodities trading. The company reported $131-billion in revenue during fiscal 1998.

Hira Bayashi, spokesman for Mitsui USA, wouldn't comment. He referred calls to the parent company's Tokyo headquarters, which was closed for the day by the time the lawsuit was announced.