Monday, February 11, 2008
"A septuagenarian has apparently confessed to setting fire to the Sungnyemun, better known as Namdaemun or South gate, causing a conflagration that completely destroyed the historic Seoul landmark within hours on Sunday night. Investigators said the suspect, identified as Chae, matches descriptions by witnesses and has the same clothes and bag as a man who was seen at the scene. He was arrested in Ganghwa Island on Monday.
"Investigators also found a ladder and a bottle of thinner at his home.
"Chae is a recidivist, with a previous conviction for setting fire to an ancient building at Changgyeong Palace, a structure from the Chosun dynasty in Seoul, in April 2006, causing damage worth W4 million (US$1=W945). The 70-year-old man is on record as saying he committed the arson out of discontent with compensation for his land, which was appropriated by the government.
"In a letter police seized on Monday, Chae says he did not sell a plot of land in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, which is to be developed by the government, as he is dissatisfied with compensation, so he set the gate ablaze to draw public attention.
"The confession may put some of the wilder speculation that arose since Sunday night’s tragedy to rest. Police had suggested that a homeless man might have committed the arson since the monument is located near Seoul Station, where many homeless people find shelter. On the Internet, there were claims of a terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists or Japanese who “hate Korean traditions”, pointing to the simmering dispute with Japan over the Dokdo islets.
"There was even speculation that the arson attack was a political scheme to avert public attention from a special investigation of allegations surrounding president-elect Lee Myung-bak."
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