Tsunami death toll rises

Six Swiss victim identification experts are still in Thailand Keystone Archive

Switzerland says it has formally identified 60 victims of the tsunami in southeast Asia, with 65 people still missing three months after the disaster.

This content was published on March 28, 2005 - 16:50

Victim identification teams in the region say progress is being hampered by the different methods being used to build DNA profiles of the dead.

Hansjörg Ritter, who is leading a team of Swiss experts in the region, told Le Matin Dimanche newspaper that 58 victims had been identified in Thailand and two in Sri Lanka.

These include 12 people who were identified on site by friends or relatives and whose bodies were repatriated shortly after December 26.

Two weeks ago the Swiss death toll stood at 39, with 87 reported as missing.

Ritter said he expected it would take several months to complete the task of identifying the dead as it was still not possible to make DNA matches.

He said European countries had used the same criteria for building DNA profiles but other countries were using different methods.

This means that the laboratory in Thailand charged with analysing DNA has to create a new profile in each case, slowing down the process of naming the dead.

Victim identification

Swiss experts were among the first to arrive on the scene and six of them are still working at the victim identification centre in the Thai resort of Phuket.

"We still have a lot of cases to deal with, not only Swiss, but also from other countries," said Ritter.

The head of the Swiss team added that a Chinese laboratory appointed by the Thai government to set up a DNA databank had also encountered difficulties.

"These are in the process of being resolved, but it could be some time before all the identification work is completed," he said.

According to Ritter, the Chinese underestimated the scale of the task at hand. He added that most of the bodies were being identified through dental records.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The final death toll of the tsunami that struck southeast Asia on December 26 will never be known.
The United Nations speaks of 300,000 dead.
Indonesia says it lost 127,000 people.
The disaster left around two million homeless.
Latest Swiss figures show 60 died and 65 are still missing.

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