Seoul pushes France for return of stolen artifacts

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Seoul pushes France for return of stolen artifacts

Korea is stepping up negotiations with France to seek the return of ancient Korean texts looted in the 19th century, with the aim of reaching an agreement before next month’s G-20 Summit in Seoul, the country’s top envoy to Paris said.

Ambassador Park Heung-shin made the remarks during an annual parliamentary audit of his embassy Tuesday, saying the G-20 Summit offers the “best chance” for Seoul to convince France to return the “Oegyujanggak” royal texts that French troops seized during a punitive expedition in 1866 on Ganghwa Island in revenge for the killing of French missionaries.

“We are undertaking negotiations with the aim of resolving the issue within the bounds allowed by French law before the upcoming G-20 Summit in November,” Park told lawmakers, adding that whenever he has met with key French officials, he has urged them to resolve the issue.

Park also said that Korea is trying to set up a bilateral meeting between President Lee Myung-bak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy after the summit. Sarkozy’s trip to Korea will be the first by a French president in 10 years, the ambassador said.

Korea has long sought to retrieve the 297 volumes of royal texts that dictate the protocols of royal ceremonies and rights. One of the books was returned to Korea on a permanent lease basis in 1993 by then-French President Francois Mitterand, but hundreds of other volumes remain in France.

Seoul is now seeking to get possession of all the volumes on a permanent lease. A Unesco convention signed in 1970 on cultural properties requires the unconditional return of any items obtained through illegal means, but items obtained prior to the signing of the convention can lawfully be registered as national properties.

Meanwhile, ruling and opposition lawmakers met with Axel Poniatowski, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly, and other lawmakers Tuesday to ask for cooperation in Seoul’s efforts to secure the royal texts.

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