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Published : 2014-03-16 21:00
Updated : 2014-03-16 21:16

A group of Korean-Americans have started an online petition asking U.S. President Barack Obama to bring a set of Korean national treasures ― apparently stolen by U.S. nationals and currently under the custody of U.S. authorities ― to Korea when he visits the country in April.

The motion, posted March 13 on We the People, an online petition site of the White House, calls for the retrieval of a total of 11 national seals and royal court signets from the Joseon era (1392-1910), Korea’s last ruling dynasty.

“The Joseon Dynasty royal seal is a highly acclaimed national treasure that was housed in a royal palace in Seoul. During the Korean War, it was illegally taken out of the country by the U.S. military personnel,” the petition reads. 
Four national seals and five royal signets of Korea seized by the U.S. customs agency in November 2013. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

“We understand that you, President Barak Obama, are expected to pay a visit to the Republic of Korea in April of 2014. We respectfully request that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security return all 11 of the Joseon Dynasty’s royal seals to its home ― Korea.”

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, which currently has custody of the artifacts, is working to return them after completing the formalities required for such transfers.

The petitioners, however, want a swifter response so that the items can be returned in time for the planned summit between President Obama and President Park Geun-hye.

As of 2 p.m. Sunday (Korean time), the motion had garnered about 1,550 signatures. The White House officially responds to a petition only if it collects more than 10,000 signatures within 30 days.

Among the 11 items are nine that the U.S. authority confiscated in November 2013 from the family of a deceased U.S. Marine lieutenant who served during the Korean War (1950-53). The man is believed to have found the seals in 1950 in a ditch near Deoksugung Palace, which had just been ransacked by Chinese and North Korean soldiers.

The remaining two are a 16th-century royal seal in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a 17th-century royal seal the U.S. authority confiscated from a U.S. antique collector. The museum in September last year promised to return the seal, also believed to have been taken out of the country by a member of the U.S. military.

It is suspected that U.S. soldiers were responsible for smuggling some 50 royal seals out of Korea during the war, only four of which have been returned.

The U.S. has returned more than 7,150 artifacts to 26 countries, including 15th- to 18th-century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, artifacts from Cambodia and Iraq, and recently, a 16th-century tapestry stolen from a church in Spain.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)

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