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US and South Korea join forces to protect cultural heritage

Governments sign first memorandum of understanding concerning recovery and restitution of stolen property

Thomas Winkowski and Sun-hwa Rha sign a memorandum of understanding to protect cultural property

The US and South Korean governments have made a formal agreement to work together to protect, recover and restitute stolen cultural property. In a ceremony on 22 July in Washington DC, Thomas Winkowski of the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Sun-hwa Rha of South Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to share information and cooperate on enforcing cultural property laws.

“This [agreement] is historically significant and represents a strong will of the South Korean government to proactively prevent the illegal trafficking of cultural property by closely coordinating with the U.S. government based on mutual trust and friendship," Sun-hwa Rha said in a statement.

The agreement is largely symbolic. The US and South Korea have had largely cordial relations since the Korean War, which ended in 1953. Since September last year, the US has returned nine ancient artefacts and a 19th-century currency plate to South Korea, which were all looted during the war.

Winkowski told Yonhap news agency that this accord is the first of its kind. "During the Korean War, there were a number of artefacts that were taken out of Korea, but I am happy to report that we play the leadership role in making sure that those artifacts are returned to Korea," he said.

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