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Korean civic groups campaign to abolish temple fees

The Hankyoreh, July 8, 2007

Temple says entrance fees are legitimate and visitors should be obliged to pay
Seoul, South Korea
-- Several civic groups are staging a campaign not to pay entry fees for Buddhist temples located at national parks, intensifying a dispute which was prompted by the abolition of national park entry fees earlier this year.

<< A box office at the entrance of a national park

On July 8, 20 activists from various civic groups staged a ‘‘pay-no-entry-fee’’ campaign at Sorak Mountain’s Sinheung Temple. As tourists attempted to enter the park with cultural heritage site inside without paying fees, causing a physical clash with its operators.

Sinheung Temple recently raised its entry fees from 1,800 won (US$1.96) to 2,500 won (US$2.72). The entry fees for national parks, however, were abolished earlier this year.

In Korea, all tourists wishing to enter National Parks have traditionally paid two separate fees, one for entrance to the parks and one for entrance to the national heritage sites inside, which mostly consist of Buddhist temples . In January of this year, however, park entrance fees were removed; meanwhile, fees for entrance to the temples, which had been levied on everyone entering the parks regardless of whether one actually entered the temple or not, still had to be paid.

Against this backdrop, many temples have tried to collect temple fees from tourists, just as they did before. In response, many tourists have refused to pay the fees, demanding that the temples do not retain the right to collect fees from people who are not planning to enter the temples. The temples have rebutted, saying that all tourists entering the parks trespass the temple-owned plots and therefore should be required to pay the fees regardless of whether they enter the temple grounds or not.

‘‘Sinheung Temple owns key tourist destinations at Mt. Sorak... It is perfectly legitimate to impose entry fees on tourists under the cultural heritage protection law,’’ a Buddhist official said.

Civic groups, however, say that the temple has no legal ground to say that they can impose fees just because tourists pass through their grounds. The civic groups said they will hold their campaign in front of a ticket box at Mt. Sorak on June 17. Of the 22 temples located at national parks, 19 temples oblige tourists to pay fees ranging from 1,600 won (US$1.74) to 3,000 won (US$3.27) for entering their grounds.

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