Confusion over tsunami corpses

PHUKET CITY: Within two weeks, corpses of all tsunami victims currently being stored at Wat Yan Yao and Wat Bang Muang in Takua Pa will be transferred to the Sea Gypsy cemetery in Mai Khao, where they will be kept in cold storage containers pending identification by relatives, Phuket Police said yesterday.

Speaking at Phuket Provincial Hall yesterday, Phuket Provincial Police Commander Maj Gen Suvith Othong said that Phang Nga Police will provide an escort to ensure that transport of the bodies to the cemetery is conducted in an “orderly” fashion.

His announcement came after a protest yesterday in the Nam Khem District of Takua Pa by some 200 people who blocked the road in front of Wat Bang Muang, where about 1,400 of the total 3,000 unidentified bodies are being kept.

The protestors demanded that all unidentified bodies remain in Phang Nga once the DNA logging effort there is completed.

The protest followed a Government statement made on Saturday in which it was announced that all unidentified victims, Thai and foreign, would be transported to Phuket when the DNA logging of the corpses was finished, in about two weeks’ time.

Although intended to be a compromise solution to the highly-publicized dispute between Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand of the Central Institute of Forensic Science and the Royal Thai Police, the announcement triggered the angry protest by villagers, who demanded a say in any issues relating to the corpses, most of which are thought to be those of Thais.

Phang Nga Provincial Police Commander Pol Maj Gen Jead Suveeranont told the Gazette today that none of the bodies had yet been moved from Phang Nga to Phuket, and that yesterday’s protest arose in part out of confusion over why the bodies needed to be moved, along with financial concerns.

‘They haven’t located the bodies of their dead relatives yet and are afraid that they will have to bear the cost of returning the bodies to Phang Nga after they are identified,” he said.

Interior Minister Bhokin Bhalakula said after the protest that the government would be responsible for the traveling costs of those who have to travel to Phuket to check on or claim bodies.

While Gen Jead said he had not yet received any specific orders regarding transport of the bodies to Phuket, his counterpart in Phuket apparently has.

Gen Suvith said that when the procession from Phang Nga reaches Tao Thepkrasattri Bridge, the border between the two provinces, the corpses will be consigned to Phuket Provincial Police, who will then become responsible for guarding them. Police Region 8 Commander Pol Lt Gen Somsak Buppasuwan will coordinate the transfer, he added.

While the bodies will be stored at Mai Khao, the logistical center for the identification effort will be at the Interpol Disaster Victim Identification Center, on the third floor of the TOT office in Chalong.

Those searching for the remains of relatives still missing in the disaster can contact the center, which will be manned by medical personnel from Wachira Phuket Hospital, police investigators from Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi provinces, and forensics experts from 19 different countries, he said.

“If a relative’s DNA [and other forensic evidence] is found to match that of one of the bodies, they can have a death certificate issued and arrange to collect the remains all in one place,” said Gen Suvith.

He added that the US Government is supplying additional cold-storage containers to house all of the bodies that will be sent to Mai Khao, where Thalang District Chief Paisarn Boonlom is directing operations.

Phuket News
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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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