France to return South Korea royal books on lease

SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - France has agreed to return on a permanent lease basis a collection of royal documents considered national treasures by South Korea and seized by the French navy in the 19th century, Seoul said on Saturday.

The agreement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy as he met South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Seoul ends a longstanding dispute over the documents that South Korea considers looted from its royal library.

“South Korea and France want to resolve a difficult issue that have existed between our countries,” Sarkozy was quoted as saying on Friday by Lee’s office.

“We are returning the (documents) on a lease renewed every five years according to (French) legal procedures.”

Lee’s office said the agreement in effect meant the documents were being return to South Korea permanently.

The 297 volumes of texts document court protocol consulted by Korea’s last ruling monarchy, the Joseon dynasty, from the 14th to 19th centuries.

The monarchy was abolished when Korea became a republic in 1897. After decades of Japanese colonial rule, it split after World War Two with the establishment of a Soviet-backed Communist state in the north.

The French navy seized the volumes from a royal library annex on the Ganghwa island northwest of the capital Seoul as it retreated from Korea following an invasion in 1866.

South Korea has sought their return after a scholar discovered them at the French national library in 1975.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Ron Popeski