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Korea asks France for copies of looted books

The Bibliothèque nationale [1] has a large number ancient books that were taken from the Korean royal archives in 1866. For a long time they were mis-filed within the library & no one knew of their existence.
Since their rediscovery, Korea has repeatedly asked these books to be returned, but despite initial positive responses they still do not seem any closer to being returned.
Now Korea has asked for high quality digital prints of all the books to allow them to study them, but have not yet received a response from the French on this. This request however does not affect their request for the restitution of the books, which still stands.

The Korea Times [2]

Korea Asks France for Photocopy of Looted Books
By Bae Keun-min
Staff Reporter

The South Korean government has asked France for digital copies of all ancient Korean books that the European nation took from a royal archive in the 19th century.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said yesterday that it requested high-definition digital copies of 297 books for research purposes last month at the request of the local academia.

“We asked for permission for photographing the books last month through consultation with the Cultural Heritage Administration so as to give better access to our scholars and citizens,’’ the ministry said. “We haven’t received any response so far.’’

The government plans to send experts to a national library of the European country in Paris and make color photoprints of the books with digital cameras to construct a database.

In 1866, France seized 297 volumes of some 1,000 books reserved in the “Oegyujanggak,’’ a royal Choson Kingdom archive on Kanghwado Island off the west coast, when its armed forces attacked the island.

France invaded the island after six French Catholic missionaries were put to death by authorities of the kingdom. The remaining books were destroyed in a fire.

The Korean government officially asked for the return of the 297 books in July 1992 for the first time. In 2001, the two countries reached a tentative agreement, in which France would permanently loan the books to Korea and in return Korea would lend France other ancient Korean documents of similar historical importance.

However, the agreement was scrapped as many South Koreans objected to the accord, saying it would not be fair to trade other cultural assets for looted cultural properties.

The ministry said the request to make the digital copies has nothing to do with negotiations between the two nations over the ownership of the books.

Since late last year, the two nations have been in new negotiations for ownership of the books but with no visible progress.

The ministry said it will start by making replicas of 30 books that Korea has no transcription of and make copies of the rest later.