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Many Victims of Bali Bombing Still Missing - 2002-11-07

Almost one month after the deadly bombing in Bali, the island is still recovering from the shock of what officials call the worst terrorist attack in Indonesia's history. Many of the dead are foreign tourists, and their families and friends are still waiting for their bodies to be identified, or in some cases, located.

It has been just a few days since the Bali bomb site has been cleared and the public allowed access. Now hundreds of people gather every day to see the devastation for themselves. Yellow police tape stops people from entering the remains of Paddy's bar and other clubs damaged but left standing in the blast. Across the street, where the popular Sari Club once stood, are little more than piles of rubble in an empty lot. Others gather to participate in Hindu ceremonies, the predominant religion in Bali. They leave flowers, incense, cigarettes and even money on the edge of the crater left by the bomb.

Amidst the devastation is a flyer, taped to a sign-post. On it is a picture of a Polish woman, Danuta Beata Pavlak. It asks for anyone with information about her to contact the Polish Embassy in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. It was put there by Wojciech Tochman, a friend and colleague, who called her Beata. "Last time Beata was seen at the hotel on the 12th of October during the breakfast in the morning," he says. "Afterwards nobody saw here. But her hotel is 300 meters from the center of explosion."

The 45-year-old Beata took six months off her job as a reporter at the Polish daily Gazeta Wybovcza to travel around the world. As a reporter, Mr. Tochman says, she would have given up part of her holiday to work. "She is a journalist. She wrote about terrorism," says Mr. Tochman. "So we are sure that if she could she would write, she would write an article to her newspaper immediately."

The Sanghla Hospital in the nearby city of Denpasar was overwhelmed by the hundreds of people injured in the bombing. While many of the most seriously hurt have been evacuated, dozens of bodies remain at Sanghla waiting to be identified by forensic scientists.

Indonesian law requires that all remains undergo DNA testing before they are released to the victim's family - and that process is now underway with the help of foreign experts. But many families who have flown in from overseas are angry at the painstakingly slow process, especially when they say they can identify their loved ones by themselves.

Ross Dwyer is with the Australian "Disaster Victims Identification" unit - or DVI - at Sanghla Hospital. He says DNA testing is critical, because even families can make mistakes. "It has happened. Because of either the trauma to the body or because the relative is traumatized because of the death," he says. "They may just take a quick look, believe it is their relative, when in actual fact it's not."

Danuta Beata Pavlak's hotel still has all her things, except her wallet and camera, suggesting that when she left, she did not intend to be gone for long. Mr. Tochman says he thinks she was probably near the blast when it happened, which is what brought him to the DVI team. "I provided a sample of DNA from her sister. And it is sent to Canberra and we are waiting for results."

So far, Mr. Dwyer, of the DVI, says 97 victims of the blast have been identified. He says official estimates of the total number of dead fluctuate between 180 and 190. There may be no remains to locate of people who happened to be near the center of the blast. But for friends and families of the missing, Mr. Dwyer says there is still reason to hope. "People who have been reported missing and whom we believed are victims of the blast, we are now finding some of those alive and well," he says. "We are still getting reports in of people who were reported missing even at this late stage."

Mr. Tochman believes he has waited long enough for news of his friend. "I hope that she's still alive, but I know that any information is better than nothing," he says. "So we want to, we would like to get to know something concrete."