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Tsunami child handed to wrong family

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19:44 CEST+02:00
A Swedish child who died in Thailand in the South Asian tsunami was cremated by a British woman after being mistaken for her child, who also went missing in the disaster in December 2004.

The child was identified using DNA, inspector Lars Jonsson of the Swedish police's special tsunami unit said. According to Alf Karlsson, Sweden's consul general in the Thai resort of Phuket, the child was identified at the end of March, at which point it emerged that the body had already been handed over to another family.

"This child was at some point a week or so after the tsunami wrongly handed over and cremated. The ashes were then taken to Britain," Karlsson said.

It has now been confirmed that the child's corpse was handed over to a British woman who had lost both her husband and child in the disaster. The child was cremated, but not buried.

"There are a lot of things to take account of in a situation like this, but it has been handled as well as possible," Jonsson said.

The urn has now been taken to Sweden.

"This is tragic for the families, and just as tragic for those who are now handing over the ashes. But they have also found [the British woman's] child, and that mother now has to swap one urn for another," said Karlsson, who apologized for the error.

The mix-up was down to the chaos of the situation immediately following the disaster.

"Bodies were handed over based on the relatives' identifications, and that proved wrong."

Sara Dannborg is one of the founders of the Association for Children Missing in the Tsunami.

"I am surprised that this hasn't happened more often, given the chaos there was after the tsunami, and given that bodies were handed over after visual identification," she said.

Dannborg lost her mother and one-year old daughter Freja in Khao Lak. Freja was identified last August.

"It was actually very important. When we found out it was nice to know that she would be able to come back to Sweden and that we would be able to bury her in a place that we had chosen. It was also very important to feel that there were no longer any question marks over what happened that day."

The association was started by relatives who felt that information from the Swedish authorities was insufficient.

"But now I believe that we can be sure and satisfied that it is being dealt with well," said Dannborg.

The identification work is now continuing in Bangkok under Thai leadership. Around 600 bodies remain unidentified. Fifteen missing Swedes, including ten children, are still unidentified.

Thai authorities now plan to bury the unidentified victims in metal coffins.

Both the coffins and the gravestones will be fitted with chips to make it possible to identify the bodies if they are identified in the future. A site for the graveyard has been earmarked north of Khao Lak, opposite the current mortuary.

Initial plans were to carry out the burials in May or June. But the Thai authorities have now said that they will be delayed for at least a few months.

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