Tsunami death toll revised upwards
Switzerland has confirmed the deaths of 39 victims of the southeast Asian tsunami, with 87 people still missing ten weeks after the disaster struck.
The government said on Tuesday that it was considering making it easier and faster for victims’ relatives to receive compensation.
A previous statement released on February 22 had put the death toll at 16, with 96 still unaccounted for.
Arnold Bolliger, vice-director of the Federal Police Office, said on Tuesday that 27 bodies – 26 in Thailand and one in Sri Lanka – had been identified by onsite experts.
Twenty-one were Swiss nationals and the rest were foreigners resident in Switzerland.
A further ten bodies were repatriated before the identification process began, with two being buried in the country in which they had died, added foreign ministry official Peter Sutter.
The authorities said they hoped that the names of more of the victims would be known in the next two weeks. Six Swiss experts are still in Phuket in Thailand carrying out identification work.
"It may take weeks or even months until all the victims are found and identified," warned Bolliger.
He added that the foreign ministry was asking relatives of the victims if they wanted to visit Thailand.
"Many find it helps them to come to terms with their loss when they visit the place where the disaster struck," said Bolliger.
The government also said on Tuesday that it was looking into ways of speeding up and facilitating the compensation process.
Ruth Reusser, vice-director of the Federal Justice Office, said a meeting would be held on April 11 to debate the current law, which is considered too strict.
At the moment close relatives can only expect financial help from the authorities after a two-year wait. Some assistance has already been given to 18 relatives.
Meanwhile, humanitarian aid efforts are continuing in the affected region, with 23 employees of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) still in the field.
Projects are progressing in Sri Lanka with seven schools and four other buildings being rebuilt, said the SDC.
Bern will also extend its cash for shelter programme, in which families look after homeless tsunami victims, to the country. A similar project is due to be launched in Aceh in Indonesia over the next four weeks.
swissinfo with agencies
The final death toll from the December 26, 2004 tsunami may never be known.
The United Nations estimates around 300,000 deaths. Indonesia alone had at least 127,000 deaths.
Two million people are homeless.
Latest figures put the death toll for Switzerland at 39, with 87 missing.
27 bodies were identified by on site Swiss experts.
There are 23 Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation workers in the tsunami-affected area: Sri Lanka (12), Indonesia (8), Thailand (3).
The cash for shelter programme will be extended to Sri Lanka, to give temporary home to victims of the tidal wave.
The programme could eventually envisage 7,500 families giving shelter to between 40,000 and 50,000 people.
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