Sun, 24 Nov 2002

Sanglah victim identification team struggling

Rendi A. Witular, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

One and a half months after the tragic Bali bombings, the multinational identification team has so far been unable to finish the identification process for the remaining dead. Despite their best efforts and commitment to finishing their undeniably grisly task, the team is encountering extreme difficulties in identifying the remaining 36 heavily burned bodies of the total 185 known dead.

This figure does not take into account body parts and the missing.

The head of the Forensic Division at Sanglah Central Hospital in Bali, Dr. I Made Maker, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday that the team was experiencing difficulty in matching the DNA from the bodies with a name or a family, as the team has not found any similarities with DNA traces drawn from the family members of the victims.

"We must be meticulous and careful in matching up the DNA of the victims. If we wrongfully identify victims, we could be sued by the victim's family," said Maker.

The team has issued a call for all individuals who believe they may have lost their relatives to provide the team with samples of hair, traces of blood or even DNA from family members to compare with the DNA of unidentified victims.

Maker said the team initiated DNA testing for all bodies a month ago since most were heavily burned and could not be identified with other methods of analysis such as dental records and finger print matching.

"The condition of the unidentified bodies makes visual identification virtually impossible, even determining whether the victim is male or female. There are no traces of human forms left in many cases," he said.

A single sample of DNA taken costs around Rp 8 million (US$869). For the current identification process, the team needs at least three DNA samples from families to match with the DNA drawn from the bodies. The team, which is comprised of forensic experts from Australia and Indonesia have now managed to record the DNA of all unidentified bodies, but have not found matches with the samples or relatives.

To slow the decaying process the bodies are currently being stored in a special storage freezer container located behind the morgue.

Maker said due to a lack of storage capacity and infrastructure in the morgue, the hospital had to borrow the container from a local businessman.

The maximum morgue capacity is eight bodies.

When the Post visited the morgue on Saturday, several Australian morticians were seen doing their utmost to clean and make-up the identified bodies prior to transport to Australia.

When asked how long it may take to find a match with the remaining bodies, Maker said it would depend on the Australian forensic team to complete their work as the Australian government had asked the Bali provincial administration to refrain from holding a mass burial for the victims.

However, Director of Services at the Sanglah Hospital Dr. I Wayan Sutarga said if there was no progress in the identification process of the bodies within a week, the administration would seek consultation with the government of Australia, Japan and other countries on the further disposition of the bodies.

Only two of 137 injured victims are still undergoing intensive medical treatment at the Sanglah hospital.