Phuket-based journalist Alan Morison writes:



A stand-off over the bodies of victims of the tsunami is heightening
tension between Thailand and Burma and causing embarrassment to the
broader international community, especially Australia.

Burmese living in Thailand say that up to 70 bodies of kin killed by
the waves have been identified by the international Thai Tsunami Victim
Identification team, which is operating on the resort island of Phuket.
However, although relatives are keen to claim the bodies, officials
decline to release them until the Burmese Government acknowledges that
they are citizens of Burma. The military junta that runs Burma has so
far refused to do that.

As many as 100,000 expatriate Burmese work along Thailand’s tsunami
coast but Burma (also known as Myanmar) denies responsibility because
these people fled the country illegally, mostly by sea. Thai authorities acknowledge the Burmese who, despite their illegal
entry, have been granted permission to work in Thailand. Officially the TTVI international community, which originally numbered
more than 30 nations, says the Burmese issue is a matter for the Thai
authorities.

But the core commitment of the countries involved in trying to identify
the tsunami’s nameless dead is to treat all victims equally – and
at present the Burmese victims and their families are clearly suffering
discrimination from their own country, along with apparent indifference
from the rest.

A spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration, one of
several NGOs that provide assistance to the expatriate Burmese, said
that talks on the issue between Thailand and Burma broke down because
Burma refuses to acknowledge the existence of the hapless illegal
immigrants.

Trapped in the middle of this tangle are the grieving families who were
encouraged by the TTVI to overcome their fear of Thai and Burmese
authorities and come forward to seek their missing relatives. Having
appealed to these Burmese to trust them, the TTVI now appears to
be distancing itself from the issue – and in doing so, negating its own
outspoken quest to identify as many of the unnamed victims as possible.

Australia faces particular embarrassment because of its leadership and
large financial commitment to the TTVI project, which has been
successful in identifying more than 2654 victims so far. Australian Federal Police computers in Australia were used to give
names to many of the Burmese by checking the fingerprints on
120,000 work permits with prints taken from the bodies.

Read the full story here.

Photo courtesy of Big Island Media.