Korea set to bring royal texts back from France on lease

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Korea set to bring royal texts back from France on lease

South 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
Related Korean Article

정부, 외규장각 도서 296권 영구대여 내달 프랑스에 공식 요구

정부는 이르면 다음 달 프랑스 정부에 외규장각 도서 296권의 영구 대여를 공식 요청할 방침이라고 외교 소식통이 21일 밝혔다. 영구 대여는 1866년 병인양요 당시 프랑스 해군에 빼앗긴 외규장각 도서를 프랑스 정부로부터 대여받아 국내에 들여온 뒤 4년마다 대여를 연장하는 방식으로, 사실상 도서들의 반환을 의미한다. <본지 1월 9일자 4면>

정부 당국자도 이날 “최근 프랑스 측이 정부의 정리된 입장을 전해 달라고 요청해왔다”며 “문화재청 등 관계 부처와 최종 협의만 남겨둔 상태로 그런 방향(영구 대여)으로 일을 진행할 것”이라고 확인했다. 이는 외규장각 도서를 조속히 돌려받아야 한다는 국민 여론과 국내법을 이유로 문화재 반환을 불허하는 프랑스 사이에서 정부가 절충안을 마련한 것으로 평가된다. 지금까지 파악된 프랑스 소재 외규장각 도서는 총 297권이다. 이 중 휘경원원소도감 1권은 1993년 영구 임대 형식으로 우리 측에 반환돼 이번에 추진될 영구 대여 대상은 296권이 된다. 영구 대여가 성사되면 정부는 우리의 국보급 문화재를 프랑스에 대여·전시케 한 뒤 일정 기간이 지나면 다른 문화재를 대여해 교환 전시토록 할 방침이다.
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