N.Korea Allows Unusual Family Reunion for U.S. Doctor

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.

A container holding the remains of Pak Kyung-jae, along with a photo of her. A container holding the remains of Pak Kyung-jae, along with a photo of her.

Dr. Pak Moon-jae, a Michigan-based cardiologist, returned last week after a trip to collect some of the ashes of Pak Kyung-jae, 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.

Pak Kyung-jae 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's ashes will remain with her family in North Korea.

VOA News / May 20, 2014 08:06 KST