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Seoul to heal its 'national scar'

SOUTH Koreans flocked to the site of a 700-year-old landmark yesterday on the first anniversary of its destruction by an arsonist as authorities vowed its rebuilding would heal a national scar.

The 14th-century Sungnyemun gate in downtown Seoul was set ablaze on the night of February 10 last year by a man angry with the government over a land dispute.

The structure, also known as Namdaemun, was the main southern gate to the walled capital of the Joseon Dynasty, which lasted from 1392 until 1910. The gate was renovated in the 1960s, when it was declared South Korea's top national treasure.

"It was a tremendous sense of loss, anger and regret that filled us all as we watched Sungnyemun burning down," Yi Kun-moo, head of South Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration, said.

"We will rebuild Sungnyemun for us all," he said. "And we will put our all in doing so. That I believe is the only way to heal the deep wound of the entire nation."

The attack, which resulted in a fire that burned for six hours, shocked South Koreans, who take immense pride in their long history. The government vowed immediately that it would rebuild the site.

Authorities have recovered more than 3,000 pieces of debris and restoration work is due to begin next year and be finished by 2012, said Choi Jong-deok, deputy director of the restoration team. Choi said up to 5,000 visitors were expected by the end of the day.

Last April, Chae Jong-ki was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the arson.

Chae, who was then aged 69, admitted setting the fire in anger over a land dispute unrelated to the landmark.


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