2 May 2005

Iraq victims funerals on hold - wrong bodies sent to Fiji

7:18 pm on 2 May 2005

The funerals of two Fijians killed in Iraq have been put on hold because one of the bodies sent to Fiji is the wrong one.

Former police officer Aisea Atalifo and former soldier Timoci Lalaqila died on April 22nd when the Russian-made MI-8 helicopter they were travelling in was shot down by an insurgent missile attack north of Baghdad.

Their bodies arrived in Fiji at the weekend for burial.

But now the American embassy in Suva has issued a statement saying that one of the bodies sent to Fiji may be that of an American soldier and that a Fijian body was sent to the United States.

The US ambassador, David Lyon, says he regrets the mistake and has apologised to the families of the two dead Fijian security guards on behalf of the American government.

"A forensic expert will be arriving in Fiji tomorrow to take DNA samples of the bodies in Fiji for analysis in the United States."

Mr Lyon has confirmed that the body of one of the two Fijian guards was sent to the United States by mistake.

He says the right body will be sent to Fiji as soon as a conclusive identification has been made.