That is the question Sweden’s ambassador in Thailand, Jonas Hafström, was asking the Thai government yesterday as rumours circulated that the bodies of Swedes and other foreign tourists have been buried with hundreds of others in two graves.
But following a meeting on Friday morning between EU representatives and the ID commission in Thailand the official line was that the mass graves were not in fact graves, but “temporary storage” of the dead bodies before they can be identified.
“Belgium’s representative reported that the graves have been investigated and it appears that all the bodies are lying in so-called body bags, which were numbered,” said Stig Edqvist, head of the Swedish ID commission.
He told news agency TT that the graves are clearly marked and guarded by soldiers. Expressen reported that the graves are near the Wat Yangao temple in Takua Pa, 30km north of Khao Lak, one of the worst-hit resorts in Thailand.
“What caused the problem was that the Thais did not inform us about this,” said Edqvist. “We don’t know how many have already been buried.”
The Swedish government has already received guarantees from the Thais that no bodies of Swedes who perished when the tsunami struck would be cremated. But according to Friday’s Svenska Dagbladet, that promise was thrown into doubt on Thursday. Members of the German ID team said they had followed two lorries containing dead bodies which were then placed in the “mass graves”.
That prompted the German, Swedish and Dutch ambassadors in Thailand to demand an explanation from government officials in Bangkok.
And a report in Thursday’s Expressen added to the concern. Thailand’s “best known pathologist”, Khunying Pornthip Rojanasunan told the paper that many Swedes could already have been cremated without having been identified.
“Local people have not been able to tell the difference between the badly injured victims and they have been cremated because they were thought to have been Thais,” he said.
But a spokesman for the Thai government, Jakrapob Penkair, confirmed the official position.
“It is the Thai government’s policy not to do anything with the remains of foreigners without their relatives’ consent,” he said. “Therefore all foreign bodies are being kept in containers.”
While the bodies are awaiting identification, Swedish police are struggling to get DNA samples from family members of people listed as missing.
“We’re having difficulty contacting relatives who are still in Thailand,” said the head of the National Criminal Investigation Department, Therese Mattsson.
Mattsson, who is leading the Swedish ID commission, told Expressen that the DNA samples need to be from close family.
“Ideally it should be the mother, but siblings are also good,” she said.
A total of 1901 Swedes are still unaccounted for in the region. 702 are ‘confirmed missing’ while there is no information about the remaining 1201 who were thought to be in the area at the time.