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Seoul considers task force on return of artifacts

Nov. 15, 2010 - 18:42 By
South Korea is seeking to set up a separate task force to work more actively on bringing back cultural assets scattered around the world, as the country suffered war and other tragedies in the past, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.

The issue of bringing back cultural artifacts that disappeared or were extorted by outside forces during the 1950-53 Korean War and Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula has been taking a positive turn as Japan and France recently agreed to return centuries-old books to the South Korean government.

The government considers the recent developments as the results of years-long negotiation efforts and Seoul’s improved diplomatic status, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

Upon the recent developments, Seoul’s Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan asked senior ministry officials Monday to consider more active measures on the issue, including an establishment of a taskforce in full charge, the official said.

“The minister emphasized the need for a more systematic approach to bring back the country’s cultural assets. He said setting up a taskforce would be a good method for such an approach,” the official added.

More than 760,000 ancient books, documents, craftworks and other forms of cultural asset are believed to be scattered across about 20 different countries around the world, most of them in Japan, which seized the Korean artifacts as well as artists during its colonial rule.

South Korea has been seeking to bring back such assets via government-level negotiations, an effort often unsuccessful due to lack of information and the enthusiasm of other states.

Upon the gathering of the world’s 20 leading economies in Seoul last week, the Lee Myung-bak government succeeded in persuading France to return the Oegyujanggak royal texts, seized in the 19th century by French troops, on a five-year renewable lease plan.

The Japanese government also agreed to return some 1,205 ancient artifacts it seized from Korea decades ago, although the agreement needs approval by its parliament.

By Shin Hae-in (