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GNP leader suggests new body to retrieve cultural assets

The ruling party’s leader has proposed setting up a private foundation to retrieve Korea’s hundreds of thousands of cultural items on a nongovernmental level.

Korea is believed to have more than 117,000 ancient books, documents and other cultural assets scattered across about 20 different countries around the world as a result of national tragedies such as the 1950-53 Korean War and Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea has been seeking to bring back such assets via government-level negotiations, an effort often frustrated due to lack of information and enthusiasm from other states. Nongovernmental efforts have not been as active or systematic until now.

“As this issue is not something that can be solved immediately, we need a stable, farsighted system,” Ahn Sang-soo, chairman of the Grand National Party, said during his speech given during a national ceremony in Seoul on Tuesday, to mark the March 1 Independence Movement 92 years ago.

“We need a governmental organization taking full charge of the issue and also a private organization that can participate in overseas auctions and make other kinds of nongovernmental efforts,” Ahn said.

In a recent development, France agreed to return by May some 297 Korean royal books it took during their war in the 19th century.

Under an official agreement between the two states, all 297 volumes of centuries-old “Oegyujanggak books” will be relocated to South Korea’s national museum with the first batch expected to arrive sometime this month.

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 (