TTVI center to close before December 26

PHUKET: The Chalong-based Thai Tsunami Victim Identification (TTVI) center will close some time before the anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami on December 26, police say.

Pol Col Khemmarin Hassiri, Superintendent of the TTVI’s Thai disaster victim identification (DVI) unit, said that a written order from the Cabinet to close the center was received by the TTVI following a decision made at the September 6 mobile cabinet meeting Phang Nga.

The exact date that the center will cease operations has not yet been announced.

The TTVI was tasked with identifying 3,777 corpses from the six tsunami-affected provinces. So far 2,363 have been identified: 619 Thais and 1,744 foreigners, Col Khemmarin said.

Profiles for the remaining 1,414 bodies that include DNA and other forensic data have been drawn up, but have yet to match up with information submitted by relatives.

The easier cases of identification, such as those based on matching dental records, have largely been completed and the focus of the work has now largely shifted to DNA and fingerprints, he said.

Col Khemmarin said the TTVI estimates that about 500 of the as yet unidentified corpses are those of Burmese workers.

Last December 26 there were about 64,000 registered Burmese workers in the six provinces hit by the tsunami. Thus far only 30 Burmese have been identified, using computer fingerprint matching done in Australia, he said.

All Burmese legally working in the country are required to leave a set of fingerprints as part of the registration process.

“As for the 30 Burmese workers we were able to identify, we notified the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok and are still awaiting a reply,” he said.

Despite fingerprints and information provided to the TTVI by the International Organization for Migration and other agencies, identifying Burmese victims has proved a daunting task.

“Some victims may have been working in Thailand illegally; others who were working legally and survived the disaster may have gone back to Myanmar without declaring themselves,” he said.

Corpses that remain unidentified when the TTVI closes will be turned over to the Justice Ministry’s Central Institute of Forensic Science, which will decide where to keep the bodies when the TTVI morgue in Mai Khao closes.

Col Khemmarin said the identification process has been as stringent as possible in order to prevent the wrong remains being given over to relatives.

He cited the example of a woman from Chiang Mai’s Fang District who came to Phuket and positively identified a set of remains as those of her younger sister. She then returned to Fang and got a death certificate, allowing her to collect the body.

When the woman returned to Phuket, she didn’t have the 50,000 baht necessary to transport the body home and asked for the TTVI to hold on to the corpse while she tried to raise the funds.

A subsequent re-check of fingerprint data later revealed that the body was not that of her sister after all.

“We don’t recheck the information in order to find fault with people or punish those who may have been involved in the misidentification, only to ensure that the work is as clean and complete and possible,” Col Khemmarin said.

“Even though we have no past experience to use as a basis of comparison in evaluating our work, I can say that we worked hard. Foreign DVI teams rotated in and out on a three-week basis, but the Thai staff have been working here non-stop since February 3,” he said.

He said that the TTVI’s database would be available to the Central Institute of Forensic Science to make the handover as smooth as possible.

The two agencies were involved in a bitter dispute in early February when the Police ruled that the TTVI would take over the work of identifying suspected Thai victims in Phang Nga, where the work had previously been led by forensic pathologist Dr Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan.

Phuket News

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