South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met with Korean atomic bomb victims in Japan on Friday as part of his three-day visit to Hiroshima to attend the Group of Seven summit.

Yoon's meeting with some 20 atomic bomb victims was the first of its kind by a sitting South Korean president.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (R) is pictured with a Korean atomic bomb survivor in the western Japan city of Hiroshima on May 19, 2023. (Yonhap/Kyodo)

"I'd like to apologize on behalf of the government and the country as a South Korean president for your home country not having been here with you while you were going through such sadness and pain," Yoon said at the event.

As Yoon spoke of his plan to jointly visit a cenotaph for Korean atomic bomb victims at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday, he promised it will be "a chance to memorialize the Korean victims, while pledging to open up an era of peace and prosperity of the two countries."

Yoon also vowed to support the victims, stressing they must be able to get help even when not in their home country.

Many Koreans were killed in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, as they were forced to work for Japanese firms during wartime. It is estimated that about 70,000 people from the Korean Peninsula were exposed to the blasts and 40,000 died, but no official investigation has been held so far.

The victims welcomed South Korea being invited to the G-7 summit and appreciated Yoon for bringing improvement in bilateral ties with Japan, which have been strained for a while, according to the presidential office.

Lee Do Woon, spokesman to the presidential office, said in an earlier briefing that Friday's meeting shows Yoon's commitment to solving historical issues while seeking improvement in relationships for the future generations of both South Korea and Japan.

The atomic bomb victims living in South Korea also headed to Hiroshima in hopes of meeting with Yoon but were unable to do so.

Jeong Won Sul, chairman of the Korea Atomic Bombs Victim Association, expressed deep regret, saying that the president has ignored the victims who came all the way to Hiroshima.

Related coverage:

G-7 summit latest occasion in history of leaders visiting Hiroshima

South Korea's Yoon to visit Hiroshima for 3 days from May 19 for G-7 talks