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Lengthy wait for body identification

Staff and wires

Volunteers in sanitary caps and white gowns are seen in front of a hospital before starting the identification process of victims of the blasts
Volunteers in sanitary caps and white gowns are seen in front of a hospital before starting the identification process of victims of the blasts

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CANBERRA, Australia -- Grieving relatives and friends of those missing after the Bali bombings could face a lengthy wait for the identification or repatriation of bodies.

Australia said on Wednesday it could take weeks to identify many of the 187 people so far confirmed killed in the Bali bombings, and has appealed to families to be patient.

At least 33 Australians are confirmed dead but families of scores of other missing Australian nationals have slammed the time it is taking Indonesian authorities to identify the charred, mutilated remains of their relatives.

The bodies, stacked in morgues using only ice blocks, are rapidly decomposing in the tropical heat. Australia has flown in five military refrigeration units to help preserve the remains.

Despite this action, Australia has come under fire from relatives of the missing over the slow identification process, with Vice-Consul Ross Tyso facing a stormy two-hour meeting on Wednesday in Bali, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Tyso confirmed Indonesia was blocking moves to send the bodies home immediately, despite visual identification by their relatives.

While admitting the morgue in Bali had been completely overwhelmed, he insisted the Australian Federal Police now had sufficient resources to identify the bodies.

Tyso said that while he could not say when the first bodies would be released, he hinted "it would be soon".

Protocol

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said he sympathized with the families, but stressed international disaster protocols had to be followed to officially identify the victims otherwise there was a one-in-five chance of people being wrongly identified.

"The condition of the bodies means that identification is extremely difficult," Howard told parliament, adding that the bodies could not be brought home until officially identified.

"The process is underway. It will take a considerable amount of time...I appeal to all of those who are focusing on this to please understand the difficulties faced by the Indonesian authorities."

So far about 50 of the 187 dead have been identified. About 140 Australians are still missing following the blasts that ripped through nightclubs on Saturday in Bali's Kuta Beach tourist strip.

Australia has sent investigators and specialist body identification experts to Bali.

Disaster morticians

Howard said Australian authorities were working as fast as possible to compile a comprehensive list of those missing and would then contact the families to collect information, such as hair clippings and dental records, to help in identification.

He said it would be impossible to identify most bodies by fingerprints due to severe burns and it may be necessary to send bone marrow samples back to Australia to identify corpses.

It took Australian authorities, in controlled conditions, about two weeks to identify 15 people who died in a hostel fire in the Queensland town of Childers in June 2000.

"I don't think in the circumstances the Indonesian authorities can be criticized," Howard said.

Australia has also hired international disaster morticians to prepare remains for repatriation.



Reuters contributed to this report.


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