WASHINGTON (AP) _ Arbitrators declared today the government must pay the heirs of Abraham Zapruder $16 million for film that Zapruder took of the assassination of President Kennedy, the Justice Department said.

A three-member arbitration decided the monetary sum on a divided, 2-1 vote, said spokeswoman Chris Watney.

The Zapruder family had asked for $30 million. The government offered a million. A three-member arbitration board was established when lawyers on both sides failed to agree on the level of compensation for the film, which was owned by the Zapruder family but held in storage by the National Archives.

``Today's decision by the arbitration panel secures the original Zapruder film for the public and guarantees that it will be preserved in the National Archives, where it belongs,'' David W. Ogden, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, said in a statement.

``The resolution of these issues ensures that this evidence of one of the most tragic events in American history will be protected for scholarly and research uses,'' Ogden said.

There was no immediate reaction from the Zapruder family or its lawyers.

The Constitution requires the government to provide ``just compensation to the owners of private property that is taken for the public good,'' the department noted in a statement. The government had to compensate the Zapruder family because the Assassination Records Review Board in 1997 declared the film the permanent possession of the people of the United States.

The Zapruder family had said the film should be valued like the works of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh or pop artist Andy Warhol whose ``Orange Marilyn'' silkscreen of Marilyn Monroe sold for $17.3 million last year.

Government appraisers had said that without projection, the Zapruder film was a strip of celluloid wound around a plastic reel. They said that when Sotheby's auction house in New York sold 1,200 items from the estate of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1996, the highest amount paid for any one item was $1.4 million for an antique French desk where President Kennedy signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

In a decision that can't be appealed, the arbitrators decided that the film was worth $16 million.

That does not include the copyright, which, at least for now, will be retained by the family.

Zapruder, a dress manufacturer, cried when he told investigators in July 1964 of how he filmed the assassination while standing on a concrete abutment along the route of the president's motorcade through Dallas.

Through the lens of his Bell & Howell movie camera, Zapruder said he heard a shot and saw Kennedy lean over and grab his left chest.

``Before I had a chance to organize my mind, I heard a second shot and then I saw his head opened up and the blood and everything came out and I started _ I can hardly talk about it,'' Zapruder said, sobbing. Later he added: ``I was still shooting the pictures until he (Kennedy) got under the underpass. I don't even know how I did it. ... I was walking toward _ back toward my office and screaming, `They killed him! They killed him! They killed him!'''

The abritration panel could not reach unanimity on how much to pay the Zapruders.

The chairman, former federal appeals court judge Arlin M. Adams, and panel member Kenneth Feinberg, wrote, ``We are comfortable that the sum of $16 million is a fair and accurate reflection of the true value of the Zapruder film'' at the time the government took ownership of it.

But acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger disagreed. He said $16 million was ``simply too large an amount in light of the evidence in the record.'' He said $3 million to $5 million would ``prove ample recognition to the value as a historical object of this strip of film.''