Sat, Jan 15, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Disagreement delays the identification of victims

THE GUARDIAN , Phuket, Thailand

The painstaking process of matching corpses to the names of more than 3,000 people still missing since the tsunami struck Thailand has been disrupted by a turf war between the police and the government's forensic team.

Thai police Thursday accused Porntip Rojanasunan, the country's most senior practicing forensic pathologist, of failing to follow international standards of identification.

Thai police said that at least 2,000 victims who had already been photographed, microchipped and sampled for DNA and dental records would have to be exhumed from temporary graves and re-examined.

But Dr. Rojanasunan, the deputy director of Thailand's institute of forensic science, insisted body identification was not a task for the police but "the duty" for her government team, and dismissed the police's involvement as a bid to seize power.

Working at the temporary morgue by the Buddhist temple in Yanyao, 100km north of Phuket, she said: "The battle between the police and the ministry of justice is about power. Many organizations want to take part in this (identification process).

"For me, if they work from the heart I will let them. If they just want the power then I will not agree," she added.

Rojanasunan told the London-based Guardian that forensic specialists needed more DNA from the living to help identify the dead.

"Our work is about the analysis of information, finding relatives of the dead and calling on them to collect DNA. We need more DNA (from those relatives)."

The identification of bodies is being undertaken in two contrasting settings within Thailand.

At the morgue by the temple in Yanyao, volunteers heave bodies into tents, the sickly smell of the dead hanging over them.

It takes two to three hours to process each body, before they are tagged and stored in grey refrigerated containers. Both groups have a mammoth task.

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