Published October 26, 2002
BALI, Indonesia – It could take weeks to identify the 191 victims who died in the Bali nightclub bombing this month because so many bodies were badly damaged by the blast or the ensuing fires, Indonesian authorities said Saturday.
So far, 77 people -- mostly foreign tourists -- have been identified from the Oct. 12 attack, said police spokesman Gen. Edward Aritonang.
But progress could slow even further as forensics experts have problems identifying the remaining dead through dental records or fingerprints. If this happens, experts will have to match DNA from body pieces with samples either from the victim before he or she died or samples from a relative.
"Given the state of many of the remains, it is likely we'll have to rely on DNA, which will be a drawn-out process," said Kirk Coningham, a spokesman for the Australian Embassy in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.
Forensic experts also are hampered by having to work in a hospital with minimal equipment and dealing with conflicting casualty lists.
Witnesses at the morgue said the first few days were chaotic and confusing. Bodies were laid out on a tile floor with only ice to preserve them, while people searching for missing relatives and friends crowded into the unguarded room, they said.
Corpses were misidentified, tags attached to bodies deteriorated in Bali's sultry weather and lists identifying the dead often included names of survivors.
"This was a big problem," said Raphael Devianne, who runs the French consular office in Bali and is searching for four French nationals. "We had one body that was identified as a female but we are now sure it was a male. The family must now wait."
An Australian forensics team that arrived four days after the bombing reorganized the morgue. But working conditions are still a problem, with only three examination tables, poor lighting and a shortage of facilities to preserve bodies.
Relatives of victims have complained of red tape slowing the release of remains. But Australian authorities said international protocol requires that bodies -- even if identified visually -- also be additionally identified through dental records, fingerprints or DNA.
"I am really hopeful we can identify everyone," said Andrew Telfer, who oversees the Australian group.
Meanwhile, Reuters news service reports that Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri asked nations on Saturday to lift travel bans imposed on her country after the Bali bombing.
Speaking to chief executives on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, summit in Mexico, she said the travel bans or warnings issued by several countries threatened to do enormous damage to Indonesia's crucial tourist industry.
"The tourist industry receives a heavy blow," Megawati said. "I hope such travel bans or limitations will soon be lifted." She added that such warnings would only create panic and encourage the terrorists in their campaign.
Tourism is essential to enable Indonesia to achieve the goal of prosperity that is the mission of APEC, she said. "We are the prime victim of that act of terrorism ... clearly we must fight terror that may take place by whoever and wherever," she said.
The United States, for example, has pulled out dependents of U.S. embassy staff in Jakarta and instructed Americans not to visit. Several other countries whose nationals were among the people killed have issued travel warnings.
On Friday, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, stung by the deaths of about 90 fellow Australians in the attack, challenged other APEC nations to fight terrorism with strong international agreements and, more importantly, on their own turf.
"No amount of international exhortations can substitute for the determination of individual governments who know they have a terrorist problem within their borders to do something about it," Howard said in a speech.
Indonesia, an APEC member, had been criticized in the United States and elsewhere for allegedly dragging its feet in the effort to clamp down on militant Islamic groups, but it has apparently been galvanized into action by the Bali attacks.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said the challenge was to bring down borders, not only to nurture business but to enable nations to join hands in tackling violent extremist attacks.
The Philippines has been rocked in the last few weeks by a series of bombings, many in the south where a Muslim insurgency with links to the Al Qaeda organization of Usama bin Laden has been raging for years.
"That (Bali) attack and the other attacks in November remind us that this war on terrorism will be long, difficult and borderless," Arroyo said. "If we neglect the economic imperative at this time when we are so concerned with terrorism, we would be feeding terrorism by promoting hunger, disease and ignorance."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.