President Lee Myung-bak and his French counterpart President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed in Seoul on Friday that Paris will return royal archives looted during a botched invasion in the 19th century in the form of a five-year renewable loan. The two met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Seoul.
"The loan will be automatically renewed every five years without the need for a new contract," a Korean government official said. "The 297 volumes of the Oegyujanggak royal archives will be returned all at once rather than piecemeal."
The agreement is based on a decision made by former French President François Mitterrand in 1993. "I know that for Koreans, these documents are very much a part of Korean heritage," Sarkozy said. The two sides will discuss the details as soon as possible.
Talks over their return began in 1993 when Mitterrand visited Korea but made little progress for the next 17 years since French law prohibits cultural assets owned by the country to be transferred abroad. "Once they return to Korea, the texts from the Oegyujanggak will not go back to France," said the Korean government official.
Some Korean academics feel a loan represents a capitulation and Seoul should have insisted on a permanent return rather than merely a loan of the looted assets.