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South Korea: Dispute Over Entrance Fees

The Korea Times, Jan 15, 2007

Exclusion of Buddhist Temples From National Parks Demanded
Seoul, South Korea
-- The dispute over entrance charges to Buddhist temples in national parks is intensifying. The head of those temples issued a statement Saturday asking the government to exclude temples from the parks. The move was touched off by the difficulty of collecting admission fees to the temples since the government abolished admission charges at 19 national parks on Jan. 1 this year.

The scrapped 1,600 won fee, collected at the entrance of national parks, included admission charges to temples in the parks. The old practice made it compulsory for all visitors to pay the admission charges to both park and temple, no matter where they were heading; park, temple or both. But, many people didnít know that and believed that entrance to the parks had became free of charge.

Thatís why a lot of bickering is taking place at the entrances of parks nowadays between visitors and fee collectors. It is a result of a hasty move by the government to abolish the charge without sufficient discussion with temples. It was September last year when the government decided to do away with entrance fees to national parks at the beginning of 2007. But, it failed to reach an agreement with temples on the way of charging for temple admission separately.

The government should have deferred the abolition of entry charges until after the setting up of new ticket booths at temple entrances. The Buddhist orderís demand for the exclusion of temples from the parks is aimed at fully exerting its ownership of lands now strictly controlled by the government, according to monks. They are in need of protecting the precious artifacts in their temples in a more positive manner, monks said.

However, the demand for exclusion is not plausible, though the concerns of temples harboring cultural treasures and relics are understandable. It is also true that a large amount of money is required to maintain the precious artifacts. But temples should remain part of national parks for systematic protection of the invaluable cultural properties.

The government is to blame for causing the chaos. It rejected the request of the temples to give them six months to build their own ticket booths. There was no reason for the government to impose the abolition in such hasty manner. The government is asked to give all available help to solve this confusion as soon as possible.

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