By Richard Balmforth
BANG MARUAN, Thailand (Reuters) - Thailand began burying the last 110 of its unidentified victims of the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in an inter-religious ceremony on Wednesday not far from the beaches on which they were killed.
Muslim and Roman Catholic priests joined Buddhist monks in presiding over the burials in big concrete chambers from which well protected bodies could be retrieved easily if DNA samples and other evidence kept by researchers produced an identity.
Eleven aluminium coffins were interred in each concrete chamber cut into the sandy soil of a cemetery 3 km (2 miles) from the Khao Lak beaches swept clean of tourists, workers and fishermen at the height of the tourist season two years ago.
Thais bury an unclaimed body, one of the unidentified victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, at Bang Muang Cemetery in Phang Nga, 788 km (490 miles) south of Bangkok, December 6, 2006. (REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang)
Most of the unidentified victims were believed to be Thai or migrant workers from Myanmar who were among the 5,395 people, half of them foreign holidaymakers, killed by the tsumani in Thailand, where it left almost 3,000 people missing.
DNA samples and other evidence from each body would allow investigators to continue searching for identities, officials of the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification (TTVI) said.
The aluminium coffins and concrete chambers capped by 500 kg (1,100 lb) lids would preserve the bodies from the hot, humid climate, they said.
"If relatives wanted to pick up the bodies in the future, then we could dig them out easily," TTVI official Police Lieutenant Wiwat Sidhisorudej said.
The burial of all 110 bodies was expected to be finished early next week in the cemetery where 300 unidentified bodies were buried over the past two months, officials said.
Still in cold storage at the nearby TTVI centre, which took over in January after most international experts ended their role in what has been called the world's biggest forensics investigation, are more than 100 bodies.
They have been identified but not yet claimed by relatives -- among them one Turk, one Nepali, 73 from Myanmar and 27 Thais killed by a tsunami in which more than 230,000 people died or disappeared in a dozen countries.
About 30 identified bodies of migrant workers from military-ruled Myanmar would be collected next week by one of their representative, said Colonel Khemmarin Hassiri, the TTVI chief.
During the burial ceremony, Sangkeep Kulmee came to pick up the body of her aunt, killed by the giant waves while working at a Khao Lak resort and identified nearly two years later.
"The feeling of happiness or sadness now is equal as I have been waiting for my aunt's body for almost two years," she said.
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