South Korean court blocks return of stolen statue to Japan
SEOUL--A metal Buddha statue stolen from a temple in Japan and taken to South Korea will remain there for now.
A local court ordered the South Korean government not to hand over the statue to Japan because of questions about its origins.
The statue was stolen in October from Kannonji temple on Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, an island that lies midway between the Japanese and South Korean mainland.
A South Korean scholar has said records show the statue was cast at Buseoksa temple in the modern-day Korean city of Yeongju in the 14th century, during the Goryeo dynasty.
The Japanese government has formally requested that South Korea return the stolen item immediately. But on Feb. 25, the Daejeon District Court in the central city of Daejeon upheld a request by Buseoksa temple for an injunction, requiring the statue to stay in South Korea.
The statue in question is of the Kanzeon Bosatsu, deity of mercy. It is listed as an official cultural asset by Nagasaki Prefecture.
"We will request its prompt return, using diplomatic channels," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a Feb. 27 news conference.
The matter could become an additional irritant in bilateral ties already strained over the Takeshima islets, which are controlled by South Korea but claimed by Japan.
The statue is now in the hands of South Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration. Officials there said representatives from the court paid a visit Feb. 26 and ordered the agency not to decide the statue's fate unilaterally.
The court has declined to comment on its decision, but the South Korean temple seems satisfied with the ruling.
"I hope that we can settle this peacefully through talks with the temple on Tsushima," said the chief monk at Buseoksa temple.
He added that the temple has no records showing how the statue arrived on Tsushima.
By Akira Nakano
The Asahi Shimbun AJW
28 February 2013
The Kanzeon Bosatsu statue, stolen from Kannonji temple on Tsushima island and taken to South Korea (Provided by the Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea)