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N. Korea Allows Unusual Family Reunion for US Doctor

Dr. Moon Jae Pak (right) with his sister, Kyung Jae Pak , in Pyongyang, North Korea, 2011 (photographer unknown).
In an extremely rare move, North Korea has allowed a Korean-American doctor to bring part of his sister's cremated remains to the United States for burial.

Dr. Moon Jae Pak, a Michigan-based cardiologist, returned last week after a trip to collect some the ashes of Kyung Jae Pak, whom he had been separated from since the end of the Korean War.

Pak said he was surprised when North Korean officials granted his request to bring some of his sister's remains to America.

“It is very fortunate that my mother and my sister - and afterwards, I - can all be buried together. My family will finally reunite as ashes,” the 80-year-old Pak told VOA's Korean Service.
A container holding the remains of Kyung Jae Pak, along with a photo of her. (Date and photographer, unknown)
A container holding the remains of Kyung Jae Pak, along with a photo of her. (Date and photographer, unknown)
Kyung Jae Pak was an opera singer in Pyongyang who died in 2012. Dr. Pak said his mother, who died in 2005, passed away while calling out his sister’s name.

In 1995, Pak had a reunion with his sister in Pyongyang, 44 years after they were separated during the Korean War. His visit was part of a PBS radio program on Korea’s separated families.

“Until I met my sister, we thought she must have died during the war,” said Pak.

A few years after that first reunion, Pak began providing humanitarian medical assistance to the impoverished North, which allowed him to return to the country and meet his sister every year.

Pak will bury the partial remains alongside his mother’s grave in Chicago, Illinois, later this month. The rest of Kyung Jae Pak's ashes will remain with her family in North Korea.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.
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    Jee Abbey Lee

    Jee Abbey Lee is a veteran broadcast journalist with more than 10 years of experience in TV, radio, and the web. She serves as Voice of America's social media correspondent and is an expert of millennial lifestyle. 

    Lee received her graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to joining VOA, she worked at the Seoul bureau of CNN Travel and served as the chief Bank of Korea correspondent for Arirang TV.