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Arsonist Burns Down UN Heritage Site

Posted May. 02, 2006 03:00,   


The two-story Seojangdae in the Hwaseong fortress in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, which was designated a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO, was destroyed by arson. It turned out that even though Seojangdae was visited by tens of thousands of people a day, it was not equipped with a fire hydrant and was exposed to fire without nighttime patrols.

Before this incident, part of the door of Munjeongjeon within Changgyeong Palace located in Seoul was also burnt and damaged. So some pointed out that there is an urgent need for measures to manage cultural properties in the midst of successive arson attempts.


At around 1: 35 a.m. on May 1, a man named Ahn (24, unemployed) broke the hinges of the locked edifice located at the top of Paldal Mountain in Paldal-gu, Suwon, broke into it, lit his underwear with a lighter, and threw it onto the floor.

In a flash, the fire moved up to the wooden tower’s pillars and rafters and burned down the second floor of the tower completely.

Ten fire engines and about 40 fire fighters responded to the fire and extinguished it in about 20 minutes, but failed to prevent the tower from being reduced to ashes.

The Hwaseong management company said, “A big fire in 1996 destroyed all of Seojangdae and it was reconstructed. This time, its first floor is intact. But, the edifice consists of one pillar connecting the first and the second floor, so the whole tower has to be restored. It is estimated that it will cost 600 million won until October to restore Seojangdae.”

Ahn was caught by the police and the fire authorities while he was watching the fire 10 meters away from the scene.

Ahn made a statement to the police, saying, “After drinking two bottles of soju in a nearby park, I went up to see what was inside the tower out of curiosity. I found something like a shaman’s clothes and put them on. But, I felt like a ghost was attached to it and set fire to it.”

Ahn, a middle school dropout, had worked at a factory and was unemployed for the last three months. He had lived on allowances from his parents while racking up credit card debt.

The police have requested an arrest warrant for Ahn’s violation of the cultural properties protection law.

Exposed to fire-

When the fire broke out, there were no fire hydrant and only two extinguishers in Seojangdae. They failed to put out the fire at an early stage.

It is confirmed that although the building was open for 24 hours, there was no defensive preparations such as nighttime patrols as a precaution against damaging cultural properties.

The Hwaseong management company that takes care of the Hwaseong fortress has 40 workers, but after working hours (from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.), it places a watch only in the office.

Before that, on April 26, a man named Choi, 68, set fire to Mungjeongjeon in Changgyeong Palace with newspapers and butane gas cans. At the time, a maintenance worker put out the fire and prevented great damage. But, the fire burned the left door of Munjeongjeon and caused property damage worth four million won.

Kyung-Hyun Nam bibulus@donga.com