- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2011

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - The first batch of Korean royal books looted by the French military 145 years ago returned home Thursday.

French troops took away hundreds of Korean manuscripts and set fire to 5,000 more when they raided a royal library in 1866 on an island off Korea’s west coast. After about 20 years of negotiations, France agreed last year to return the books on a “renewable lease” in line with French law, South Korean officials say.

The books detail protocol for royal funerals, weddings and other ceremonies during the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910.

Because French law only allows cultural assets taken out of the country temporarily, the two countries negotiated the renewable lease. A statement from South Korea’s Culture Ministry called the deal a “virtual return” of the books.

“Through this return, South Korea and France became closer friends who can trust each other more,” Culture Minster Choung Byoung-gug told a news conference, according to his office.

On Thursday, 75 volumes of the total 297 books arrived in South Korea and remaining documents were to be returned by late May, according to the Culture Ministry.

Historians say the books’ engravings could reveal much about the history, art and handicraft of the dynasty that ended when Japan’s 35-year colonial rule began.

Nowadays, the peninsula is divided between North Korea and South Korea.