South Korea Japan Forced Labor

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2018, file photo, victims of Japan's forced labor and their family members arrive at the Supreme Court in Seoul, South Korea. A South Korean district court said Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, it has decided to freeze the local assets of a Japanese company involved in compensation disputes for wartime Korean laborers. The sign reads " Mitsubishi Heavy Industries apologize and compensate victims." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean court said Wednesday it has ordered the seizure of local assets of a Japanese company after it refused to compensate several wartime forced laborers, in an escalation of a diplomatic brawl between the Asian neighbors.

Japan called the decision “extremely regrettable” and said it will push for talks with Seoul on the issue.

In a landmark ruling in October, South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay 100 million won ($88,000) each to four plaintiffs forced to work for the company when Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula in 1910-45.

But the company refused to follow that ruling, siding with Japan’s long-held positon that all colonial-era compensation issues were settled by a 1965 treaty that restored diplomatic relations between the two governments. Japanese officials said they could take the issue to the International Court of Justice.

On Wednesday, the Daegu District Court’s branch office in the southeastern city of Pohang said it issued the seizure order for some Korean assets of the Japanese company in early January after lawyers for the plaintiffs filed a request to do so.

The Japanese company holds 2.34 million shares, or around $9.7 million, in a joint venture in Pohang with South Korean steelmaker POSCO.

The asset freeze became officially effective later Wednesday after a court document was delivered to the joint venture, said Kim Se Eun, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs. She said an additional legal step is required to sell 81,075 of the 2.34 million shares that the district court ordered to be frozen. She declined to say when that step might be taken.

Only one of the four plaintiffs, a 94-year-old man, is still alive and bereaved family members represent the other three.

The 81,075 shares were frozen for two of the four plaintiffs, including the sole survivor. Lawyers plan to request the district court to order the freeze of a similar number of shares for the two other plaintiffs, Kim said.

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