Korea set to bring royal texts back from France on leaseSouth Korea will soon file an official request with France for the permanent lease of ancient Korean royal texts looted during a 19th century French invasion of the country, diplomatic sources in Seoul said yesterday.
The planned move comes after a French court hearing a suit filed by a Seoul-based civic organization, Cultural Action, on Dec. 24, 2009, acknowledged French ownership of 296 Korean royal books.
A total of 297 ancient books that dictate the protocols of royal ceremonies and rites of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) were taken by the French military from a library on Ganghwa Island off the country’s west coast during an 1866 invasion.
A single book was returned to Korea on a permanent lease in 1993 by France’s then-President Francois Mitterand.
Cultural Action has said it will appeal the court decision, while the Seoul government said its effort to bring the texts back on a lease will not affect any legal proceedings in the future.
“The two governments have held several rounds of negotiations and the French government recently asked us to express our position in an official document,” an informed source said, adding that the official request likely will be filed next month.
“The government has decided the most realistic way to have the documents returned is to have them on a permanent lease,” said the source, asking not to be identified.
Under a Unesco convention signed in 1970, cultural properties obtained through illegal means since that year are subject to restoration, but those obtained prior to the convention - regardless of how they were acquired - can lawfully be registered as national properties by the country that possesses them, as are the Korean texts at France’s national library, according to officials at Seoul’s foreign ministry.
Seoul and Paris have held a series of negotiations since the first return of a royal text in 1993, but have failed to reach an agreement. South Korea’s latest proposal includes lending other South Korean texts or historic relics to France in exchange, ministry officials earlier said. Yonhap
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