South Korea on Thursday welcomed an agreement with France to transfer centuries-old Korean royal books from Paris to Seoul between March and May beginning with the first shipment later this month.
Officials from the national museums of the two countries signed the agreement in Paris on Wednesday to transport 297 volumes of the "Oegyujanggak" to Seoul in four shipments from March 28, according to the National Museum of Korea.
South Korea's foreign ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae welcomed the agreement.
"Our government will continue cooperation with the French government to complete the transfer by May 31," he said in a statement.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed in November to return the royal books to South Korea on a renewable lease when he held talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of 20 major economies in Seoul.
The two sides signed a formal agreement on the matter in February.
The Oegyujanggak books from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) were looted by French troops in 1866 when they invaded a Korean island in retaliation for the persecution of French Catholic missionaries by Koreans. The books can now be found at the National Library of France.
South Korea has long sought to retrieve the books that dictate the protocols of royal ceremonies and rites. One of the books was returned to Korea on a permanent lease basis in 1993 by then French President Francois Mitterrand, but hundreds of other volumes have remained in France.
외교부 "외규장각 도서 이관약정 환영"
외교통상부는 17일 조병제 대변인 명의의 논평을 내고 "외규장각 도서의 이관 약정이 파리에서 국립중앙박물관과 프랑스국립도서관(BNF)간 서명된 것을 환영한다"고 밝혔다.
외교부는 "이로써 외규장각 도서 이관을 위한 양국간 모든 공식적인 협의가 마리된 바, 우리 정는 금년 5월31일 이전까지 이관이 완료될 수 있도록 프랑스 정부와 계속 협력해 나갈 계획"이라고 강조했다.