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South Korea fire suspect arrested
Man charged over arson attack which destroyed 600-year-old Seoul monument.
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2008 04:07 GMT

Conservation officials say the gate will take three years to restore [Reuters]

 

South Korean police say they have arrested a 70-year-old man in connection with a devastating fire that destroyed one of the country's top historic treasures.

 

The 600-year-old Namdaemun gate in central Seoul was set ablaze on Sunday night and burned to the ground despite the efforts of more than 300 firefighters.

 

The Namdaemun gate was originally
built 600 years ago [Reuters/file]
Police said they found clothing and a bag nearby, as well as a bottle of paint thinner.

 

Officials say the man in custody has admitted setting the gate on fire and was previously convicted of arson in another incident at a South Korean cultural site.

 

The destruction of the historic gate was greeted with dismay in South Korean newspapers on Tuesday with editorials noting that it had survived Japanese invasions and occupation and the 1950-53 Korean War.

 

"But it was ruined in six hours due to our lack of care and attention," said JoongAng Ilbo in an editorial entitled "A profound sense of loss."

 

"With our history of 5,000 years, the spirit of Koreans and part of ourselves was destroyed," the paper said.

 

Kim Young-soo, head of the Seoul police station handling the case, said the detained man was apparently angry over a land dispute with a development company, saying that he did not get enough compensation from the developer for his land.

 

More than 300 firefighters battled for five
hours trying to save the gate [Reuters]
The gate's wooden structure was left a charred ruin by Sunday night's blaze although its large stone base remained intact.

 

South Korea's cultural heritage administration has said it would take at least three years to fully restore the gate at a cost of some $21m.

 

The Namdaemun gate was built in the 14th century during the Joseon Dynasty and once formed part of a wall that encircled Seoul.

 

Although it was renovated several times, the pagoda-like structure still contained some 600-year-old timbers.

 

Following a restoration in the 1960's the gate was designated South Korea's "number one national treasure".

 

Much of the South Korean capital was destroyed by heavy fighting during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Source:
Agencies
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