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War graves experts to help with Katrina IDs

Using bone samples, group expects 100 percent success rate

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The International Commission on Missing Persons is testing bone samples from Katrina victims.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

(CNN) -- Louisiana officials working to identify the last 170 unknown victims of Hurricane Katrina are getting help from seasoned Bosnian DNA experts.

The International Commission on Missing Persons said Thursday that it has reached an agreement with Louisiana health officials to perform DNA tests on 260 to 350 bone samples from Katrina victims.

The commission, based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was set up to help identify people killed in the bloody Balkan conflicts. It used DNA analysis on bones and teeth recovered from mass graves found in the former Yugoslavia.

Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals reported Thursday that the remains of 170 people have yet to be identified. In all, 1,096 bodies were recovered in Louisiana in the wake of the August 29 hurricane.

The remains of 588 people have been identified and released to relatives, according to the department's Web site, which is updated daily.

Officials continue to look for relatives of other identified victims.

DNA laboratories in Bosnia and Herzegovina already have begun analyzing bone fragments.

"ICMP's involvement in Katrina victim identification efforts will be limited to the profiling of bone samples for DNA," the commission said in a statement posted on its Web site. "The DNA profiles will be returned to the Louisiana authorities for matching with family members' DNA profiles there."

The commission has developed a system for DNA-led identifications on a mass scale. It is helping identify victims of the December 2004 tsunami and also is working with authorities in Iraq on missing persons issues.

ICMP Chairman James Kimsey said its DNA scientists are experienced in working with bone fragments from victims that have been buried in mass grave sites for more than 10 years.

Those identifications were more difficult to make than the Katrina identifications will be, Kimsey said, adding that he anticipates the experts will have close to a 100 percent success rate in creating DNA profiles of the hurricane victims.

"Hurricane Katrina is a relatively recent disaster, and in this case the quantity of DNA is much higher than in older bones," he said.

Some test samples of Katrina victims were sent to laboratories in November, and "ICMP achieved a 100 percent success rate in obtaining DNA profiles" of those samples, the commission said in its statement.

The commission was created in 1996 after the G-7 Summit, in Lyon, France, to focus on identifying people missing in the conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro.

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