Tokyo (Japan) (AFP) - A group of Japanese scholars is set to reveal the names of the members of a Japanese World War II germ warfare unit that infected and starved Chinese and allied POWs in a series of gruesome experiments.
Katsuo Nishiyama, professor emeritus of Shiga University of Medical Science in western Japan, has told local media his team is analysing a list of 3,607 members and plans to publish it online to encourage further historical study of the unit.
"This is the first time that we see a list of the names of nearly all its members being released in the form of an official document," the Mainichi Shimbun daily quoted Nishiyama as saying.
Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army was set up in Manchuria after Japan formed a puppet state in northeastern China in 1931.
Its members -- some of them physicians from Japan's top medical universities -- conducted human experiments, injecting plague and other germs into their victims, testing germ bombs, and artificially causing frostbite to victims while depriving them of sleep and food.
The Japanese government denied the existence of the unit until 1998, when the Supreme Court indirectly acknowledged it by ruling there was an academic consensus that Unit 731 existed.
The list, recently released by the National Archives of Japan to Nishiyama's team, includes the names, ranks and addresses of those who belonged to Unit 731, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.
"This piece of valuable evidence supports all the testimonies given by those who knew the unit. This is a big step forward for efforts to reveal the hidden truth," Nishiyama said.
The list includes 52 surgeons, 49 engineers, 38 nurses and 1,117 combat medics of the unit.
Nishiyama could not be reached for immediate comment.
Japan, unlike Germany, has been widely accused of failing fully to face up to its wartime atrocities.
The subject is not widely taught in schools, and comments by conservative politicians glossing over the issue regularly anger other Asian nations which were the victims of occupation.