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Seoul court orders split of leftover assets from N. Korean father

After more than two years, a legal dispute between four North Korean residents and their five half-brothers and sisters in South Korea over assets left over by their common father who died in the South concluded on Tuesday with court mediation.

The four North Koreans filed a lawsuit against their five South Korean half-brothers and sisters in February 2009, demanding they split 10 billion won ($9.35 million) worth of assets left by their father.

The Seoul Central District Court on Tuesday ordered the South Korean family to give part of the disputed real estate from their father to the North Koreans along with some of their inherited assets in cash. The court did not announce the exact amount of assets owed to the North Koreans.

Several groups of North Koreans have filed similar lawsuits at South Korean courts as the country's Constitution considers the entire Korean Peninsula as its territory. But the group involved in Tuesday's court order became the first North Korean family to win partial ownership of assets left by a relative who defected to the South. Their father came to the South during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The two Koreas remain technically at war because the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Despite the court decision, the two sides decided to continue a separate litigation filed by the North Koreans seeking court confirmation that they are biological offspring of the deceased father.

The father, who ran a hospital in North Korea, crossed the border to the South when the Korean War began in 1950, taking only his eldest daughter with him. He had four other children with his South Korean wife and died in 1987.

The eldest daughter later found her North Korean family with the help of an American missionary who traveled between the two Koreas. The family sent letters of attorney, videotapes with their images and hair samples to the sister in the South via the missionary. Based on the materials, the North Koreans filed two lawsuits with South Korean courts -- one asking for a split of the father's leftover assets and the other seeking court confirmation of their biological relationship with the father.

Last year, the Seoul Family Court recognized the blood relationship between the four North Koreans and the deceased, citing DNA test results. But the South Korean family appealed the decision. (Yonhap News)

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