A 70-year-old man has confessed that he set a fire to the country's No. 1 national treasure, police said Tuesday.
Police officers have inquired the suspect, identified by his last name Chae, since late Monday after discovering at his home clothes and a bag similar to those described by witnesses who told police they saw a man appearing to be in his 60s near Namdaemun, the site of the fire, with a backpack and a ladder.
A bottle of paint thinner was also found at the suspect's home, police said.
Police said Chae was apprehended on Ganghwa Island, west of Seoul, on Monday on suspicions of setting a fire that crumbled down Namdaemun (South Gate), a 600-year-old gate in the capital, on Sunday night.
He was confirmed to be the arsonist who set ablaze a part of a former royal palace, Changgyeong, in central Seoul in April 2006 and caused some 4 million won in damage.
Police said that he seemed to commit similar crime again in anger against the alleged wrong handling of the compensation for his land confiscated for housing construction, which he had claimed when arrested for the arson of the Changgyeong Palace in 2006.
A letter taken from Chae Monday has held the content to the effect that he set a fire to attract social attention on unsettled compensation for his land in Ilsan, a new town in northwestern Gyeonggi Province, the police said.
A fire-ravaged Namdaemun shocked South Koreans who saw their cherished historical monument collapse at the onset of the Lunar New Year.
The landmark, officially called Sungnyemun, or "gate of revering decorum," was the southern gate of the walls that surrounding Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It had survived a series of tribulations, from Japanese invasions in the 16th century to the 1950-1953 Korean War.