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NZ to help Thais with forensic work

Hon Phil Goff Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

10 January 2005

NZ to help Thais with forensic work

The government is to provide Thai authorities with a New Zealand-developed victim identification software package to help identify victims of the Boxing Day tsunami, Foreign Minister Phil Goff announced today.

“A request for this assistance was made last week when I visited the Wat Yang Yao mortuary in Phuket. After seeing the aftermath of the tsunami first hand, and seeing the tremendous work forensic staff are doing in Thailand, I agreed New Zealand would help," Mr Goff said.

“Providing this vital resource is a good example of the very tangible assistance a small, innovative country like New Zealand can provide.

"The scale of the disaster has been beyond what anyone involved in forensic DNA recovery work had ever envisaged, and Thailand has only recently set up a national DNA laboratory with the assistance of Environmental Science and Research Ltd (ESR).

"ESR is now customising disaster victim identification software to integrate into the laboratory's existing DNA sample management system. ESR staff are currently en-route to Thailand to install the software, train local staff and help the laboratory consolidate their victim identification processes so they work most effectively with the database.

“Currently each country with victims is responsible for providing ante-mortem DNA samples to the International Victim Identification Co-ordination Centre in Phuket. There are literally thousands of these samples that will be recorded using the software and then matched to post-mortem DNA samples from the victims.

“This is a very important process which will help bring closure to many families around the world who lost loved ones as a result of the tsunami,” Mr Goff said.

NZAID, the government’s aid agency, is meeting the $250,000 cost of the ESR package, which is in additional to the $10 million New Zealand has already committed to emergency relief efforts.

Mr Goff said the government was currently considering an enhanced package of tsunami relief that would probably be announced after Cabinet next Tuesday.

"The Prime Minister and I began working on the package in Jakarta and continued to work on it over the weekend in discussion with the Finance Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"The package will be a mixture of immediate assistance and longer-term reconstruction. It will be a significant amount, commensurate with the generosity of New Zealanders and the scale of the disaster. "I welcome Don Brash's support for my having foreshadowed the package. It's a pity he went on to seek political capital by trying to write himself into the story after two weeks of silence.

"It is well known the government has already committed itself to a $250 million refit of the Hercules, which is in stark contrast to the lack of any programme under National for work on air transport planes.

"I regret that Dr Brash feels the need to belittle his country by calling problems with the Hercules 'a national embarrassment'. The RNZAF has in fact done a sterling job in delivering tonnes of aid and supplies with three aircraft in an unprecedented commitment to disaster relief. Other countries, including Australia, have acknowledged the effort New Zealand is making, which is large in proportion to our size."

Mr Goff said the Prime Minister was likely to shortly announce plans for a day of remembrance for those who died in the tsunami.

ENDS

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