Officials fail to identify final Bangladesh disaster victims

DHAKA - Authorities have failed to identify the final 165 victims of Bangladesh's Rana Plaza factory collapse, an official said Monday, meaning their families still cannot be compensated six months after the disaster.

DNA samples were not properly collected from the bodies after the collapse that killed 1,135 people in one of the world's worst industrial accidents and highlighted appalling safety standards in the industry.

The identity of 322 people could not be immediately confirmed after the crumbling of the complex outside Dhaka, where workers stitched clothes for top Western retailers.

Their bodies were too badly damaged after the nine-storey building came down, trapping many under pancaked floors.

With bodies decomposing and fears of an outbreak of disease, officials buried them in a state graveyard in Dhaka after taking DNA samples for eventual identification.

"Of the 322 people, we have now identified 157 victims by matching their DNA samples with their parents, siblings and children," said Sharif Akhteruzzaman, head of the National Forensic DNA Profiling Laboratory.

The laboratory has handed over a list to the prime minister's office, making their families eligible for compensation, he told AFP.

The laboratory would now try to reanalyse DNA samples of the remaining 165 victims, but Akhteruzzaman said he was sceptical of success since samples from bones and teeth were not properly taken.

"The quality of their DNA samples is substandard. It's going to be an extremely tough job to reanalyse the remaining 165 people," he said, adding the lab was now using software supplied by the US government.

Bangladeshi and international labour unions have strongly criticised the government, factory owners and Western retailers for not swiftly and adequately compensating victims and their families.

The government has said it has paid some money to families of around 800 victims, which includes about 40 survivors who lost limbs in the tragedy.

But authorities have held back compensating the rest, citing a lack of identification, a task made more difficult by inadequate payroll lists kept by factory managers.

The government's top labour official said on Monday that families of those now identified would be compensated very soon.

"We'll identify the rightful beneficiaries of these 157 people as soon as possible and then compensate them," Labour Secretary Mikail Shipar told AFP.

Bangladesh's $22 billion garment industry is the world's second largest after China. But its four million workers are paid as little as $38 a month and toil 10-12 hours a day in poor and unsafe conditions.