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Swiss lend support in identification process

Thai authorities are warning people not to go looking for those missing Keystone

Forensic specialists, including 24 from Switzerland, have begun tests on the bodies of victims of the fatal tidal waves in south Asia.

This content was published on January 1, 2005 - 16:51

The Swiss foreign ministry reported on Saturday that the death toll among Swiss had now risen from 13 to 16 and that there was little hope for 85 others missing.

It said that there was still no news of 550 other Swiss.

In a related development, the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, has flown to Thailand.

She is to visit injured Swiss at a hospital in the Thai tourist resort of Phuket, before travelling to the capital, Bangkok, and Sri Lanka.

More than 300 experts from 20 countries are in Phuket to take samples that may help in identification of the dead.

The team of dentists and forensic officials will be taking tooth and finger prints of bodies that are rotting and already beyond recognition after last Sunday’s catastrophe.

They will also be taking DNA from the thighbone of victims.

Reports say the specialists are working under intolerable conditions. The tests will take weeks to carry out, with results of identification in individual countries only expected after months.

Procedure

The work of the experts could only begin on Saturday because the different countries involved in the investigation had to discuss the method of procedure among themselves and with the Thai authorities.

Officials in Thailand are telling anguished family and friends not to keep up their desperate search for the missing.

"Please tell your friends not to come," Phuket Tourist Police Lieutenant Tuaytep David Wibursin said over a loudspeaker at Phuket Town Hall, where a centre has been set up to coordinate efforts to find victims of the tsunami.

"The bodies are no longer identifiable," he said.

"Be advised that the bodies and the photos do not match," he told friends and relatives who have flown in carrying photographs of the people they are looking for.

Diseases

Tuaytep told them people in the stricken area were in danger of catching diseases that experts say may develop in the aftermath of the tsunami which rolled through the Indian Ocean.

Family members could now give DNA officials in their home countries, Tuaytep said. A DNA database was being set up that would be cross-checked with the DNA of the dead to confirm their identities.

“It’s going to be chaos but we are trying to match it. As times go by, a large number will definitely be matched,” he said.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization also warned that tens of thousands of tsunami survivors were at risk from killer diseases, such as cholera, despite stepped up international aid.

WHO crisis chief David Nabarro, asked whether an earlier warning that some 50,000 people could succumb to disease still stood, said: "It is still too early to make that judgement."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

An undersea quake on Sunday measuring nine on the Richter scale caused a series of tidal waves in the Indian Ocean.
The registered death toll in affected countries on Saturday was:
Indonesia: 80,246
Sri Lanka: 28,729
India: 8,942
Thailand: 4,812
Somalia: 200
Burma: 90
Maldives: 73
Malaysia: 66
Tanzania: 10
Bangladesh: 2
Kenya: 1

The international community has raised $1.6 billion (SFr1.82 billion) in aid, about a third of it from Japan. Switzerland has so far donated SFr25 million.

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In brief

The Swiss foreign ministry on Saturday said that 16 Swiss citizens were now known to have died in the tragedy, with little hope for 85 others missing.

It said that there was still no news of 550 other Swiss.

A donor conference for support to those who have suffered in the disaster is due to take place in Geneva at the United Nations on January 11.

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