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Cultural Heritage Administrator Under Fire

Posted February. 12, 2008 03:02,   


With mounting criticism that the failure of initial response to fire cost No. 1 national treasure Sungnyemun, also known as Namdaemun, the absence of the head administrator responsible for cultural heritage is further provoking the angry public. Yoo Hong-june, head of the Cultural Heritage Administration, was on a business trip to Europe with partial sponsorship of the Korean Air accompanying his wife when the fire broke. Her flight tickets were also sponsored by the airline.

An official of the administration said on Monday, “Yoo went on an overseas business trip on Feb. 6 to Gorinchem of the Netherlands and Paris of France for nine days using the Lunar New Year`s holidays. But he left Amsterdam immediately for Korea, without going to Paris, as soon as he heard the news on Sunday.”

Yoo planned to visit the Louvre Museum in Paris to celebrate the start of a multimedia guide service in Korean, sponsored by the Korean Air, and to attend a press conference. The Korean Air said, “We had proposed to cover Yoo and his wife’s airfares from Seoul to Paris via Amsterdam and their board and lodging in Paris.”

The cultural heritage administrator was to discuss the “Royal Tombs of Joseon Dynasty” case to put it on the World Cultural Heritage list with Koichiro Matsuura, secretary-general of UNESCO, and Francesco Bandarin, director of the World Heritage Center, on Feb. 11-13 in Paris.

Most Korean officials left Seoul on Monday to attend the celebration at the Louvre Museum. However Yoo left Seoul for Amsterdam on Feb. 6 first, despite the fact that he had no official schedule except for a meeting with the mayor of Gorinchem, arousing suspicion that he and his wife were enjoying a de facto vacation. Gorinchem is the hometown of Hendrick Hamel, the first European to be shipwrecked on the Korean Peninsula. According to the administration’s official schedule for the administrator’s overseas business trip, “visits to cultural heritage in Amsterdam (all day)” is slated for Feb. 7 and 9.

The administration said, “His visit to Gorinchem was to discuss exchanges between the Hamel Memorial in Gangjin, South Jeolla Province and the Hamel Memorial that will be built in 2009 by the Gorinchem city government. There was no official invitation from the city, but the administration arranged the schedule.” In these cases, the head of the provincial government in question usually pays a visit to the affiliated city, but this time Yoo decided to visit instead.

An official of the Gangjin District Office said, “Yoo’s visit to Gorinchem has nothing to do with the Gangjin office. It is regarded as his personal visit.”

Yoo told reporters on his arrival at the Incheon International Airport on Monday, “Old wooden buildings burn down if blaze is not contained in less than ten minutes. I cannot understand why (the gate turned into ashes) even though firefighters went there within ten minutes.”

He added, “The cultural heritage institute under the Cultural Heritage Administration has an accurate plan of the gate, so there will be no big challenges in restoring Sungnyemun.”

Meanwhile, some 15 experts from related agencies, such as the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, the Namdaemun Police Station, the National Emergency Management Agency, the Seoul City Government, the National Institute of Scientific Investigation and the Korea Electrical Safety Corporation, visited the site twice Monday for the joint inspection.

The Namdaemun Police Station asked the NISI to conduct a close investigation into two lighters found on the first tier of the gate.

The police analyzed the closed-circuit television tapes focusing on the possibility of arson, but failed to find suspects.

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