Experts Discuss Return of Looted Treasure in Seoul

      November 27, 2008 11:30

      Some 200 experts from 22 countries gathered in Seoul on Wednesday to discuss their agenda of returning cultural properties to the countries they were taken from.

      The snappily named Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation, or ICPRCP for short, was established in 1978.

      One issue was the return of the historically significant Korean books and documents taken from the Oegyujanggak royal archive of the Chosun Dynasty by the French navy during a campaign in 1866. In a discussion session, specialists from the two countries engaged in a war of words that showed how deep the chasm remains.

      Prof. Shin Byung-ju of Konkuk University said copies of the Annals of the Chosun Dynasty from the Mt.Odaesan archives that were looted by the Japanese colonial government have been returned although they were subject to Japanese laws. "When we judge rationally what is right, the issues can be resolved," he said. But Thierry Berthelot, a counselor at the French Embassy in Korea, insisted the Oegyujanggak books are the national property of France, and their transfer "is impossible under the applicable French laws."

      Shin said copies of the Royal Protocol of Uigwe in the archive "are illustrated state records which systematically describe major events of the royal household and the government of the Chosun Dynasty, and thus essential for the study of Korean history. Therefore, they must be returned. We need to decide rationally who should take permanent custody of the ancient records and conduct research on them." Berthelot, who attended the meeting as an observer, replied France is making some use of the ancient material, including a digitalization project, and besides remains willing to negotiate.

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