Persson and Nordic Ministers promised help

More than 900 Swedes are still missing in the wreckage on the beachfronts near Phuket.

As Sweden’s Göran Persson wrapped up his visit to Thailand, he asked that country’s prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra for more help locating missing Swedes.

“The prime minister assured us that the search will continue until we are satisfied,” said Persson at a press conference in Phuket. He and his colleagues, Norway’s Kjell Magne Bondevik and Finland’s Matti Vanhanen, will also be allowed to bring police and search teams from their own countries to the disaster area.

Persson had also pressed the Thai leader about a warning system, and criticized officials for allowing two hours to pass between the powerful earthquake and the deadly tsunami. He urged that reconstruction be carefully engineered so that “hotel complexes are not so easily washed away.”

Persson visited hospitals and extended a compliment to Thai workers: “These are terrible days, but it’s incredibly impressive to see the efforts made by the Thai to help everyone they could,” he said to TT.

He has openly shown emotion while flying over wreckage, viewing the recovery sites where hundreds of bodies are undergoing identification, and admitted to press that he’s lost personal friends in the catastrophe.

More than three weeks after the disaster, only nine Swedish victims have been identified and their bodies flown home. Police have information that could help identify about seventy victims.

In cases of missing persons, standard Swedish law requires up to a ten-year waiting period before a death can be declared. Parliament is now looking at changing that law in cases of natural disasters to shorten the waiting period to as little as two months. The proposed changes had been written in 1998 but not followed up, so now parliament can act with record speed. The new law would take effect in late March or April, and it would transfer the responsibility of death declarations to the Swedish tax authority.

The Swedish tax authority’s legal expert Lars Tegenfeldt believes a faster process would help family members. “They can begin the grieving process in a normal manner after a death,” he says. A faster process allows families to apply for insurance, inheritance, not to mention plan memorial ceremonies.

While in Phuket, Persson opened a new Swedish consulate. Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds has taken the opportunity to announce plans for an emergency services team that would be on standby 24 hours each day to help Swedes around the world in the event of a natural disaster. She did not give details but admitted that her department was not adequately prepared or organized to handle a major catastrophe like the tsunami in southeast Asia.

Politicians were not impressed. Center party leader Maud Olofsson says a more concrete proposal should be put forward. “We have seen deficiencies in crisis leadership in Sweden… we should show that we can organize this better and be ready to take action when we have the power of parliament.”

Conservative leader Fredrik Reinfeldt agreed that it should be a central crisis team, not something situated within one ministry. “Crises are always different, but they always put demands on how the nation should act.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet, Expressen