(From left) Dr Mohamad Azaini, Dr Zahari Noor and Dr Mohd Suhani. Photo: Bernama

PUTRAJAYA: The cause of deaths of the victims in the temporary transit camps and graves in Wang Kelian, Perlis, could have been determined if only post-mortems had been conducted much earlier, a forensic expert said today.

Penang Hospital forensic senior consultant Datuk Dr Zahari Noor said delays in conducting deoxyribonucleic acid tests (DNA) led to difficulties in determining the exact cause of death, as by then deterioration (of the remains) had set in.

He did not rule the possibility that the handling of the bodies, including bone fragments, during the excavation process, led to the loss of more evidence.

“I am of the view that if the post-mortems were done in January, that is just after the graves were discovered, we would have obtained a clearer cause (of death).

“The rotting of the bodies happened very fast, and in this case, if we had found more soft tissues (from the bodies), we could have established more possibilities as to the cause of their deaths,” he said.

Dr Zahari was testifying in the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into the discovery of temporary transit camps and graves in Wang Kelian, which entered its 14th day today.

Dr Zahari, the 41st witness in the RCI, said the grave excavation and body removal process carried out by the police forensics team should have included an expert from a government hospital forensics department.

(From left) Dr Mohamad Azaini, Dr Zahari Noor and Dr Mohd Suhani. Photo: Bernama

He said someone like Dr Mohamad Azaini Ibrahim from the Serdang Hospital Forensics Department, who is specialised in grave excavations and the handling of bone fragments, should have been included in a large scale excavation process such as the one in Wang Kelian.

“Before an (excavation) process starts, it is better to call in a forensic expert who is specialised in bone handling and excavation work as all it takes is just one fly to cloud the process of determining age of the victims.

Dr Zahari said he conducted post-mortems on eight of the bodies himself, which took place about four months after the graves were discovered in January.

Dr Zahari said he and team members could only determine the victims’ gender and when they had died, and not the cause, as tests conducted only involved bone fragments.

The inquest’s 39th witness, Alor Setar Sultanah Bahiyah Hospital Forensic Department senior consultant Dr Mohd Suhani Mohd Noor, meanwhile, confirmed that 104 of the 114 bodies examined were of Indian descent after factoring in the Caucasoid characteristics as revealed in the DNA results.

RCI deputy chairman Tan Sri Norian Mai, however, disagreed with the use of the term ‘Indian ethnicity’ as it can raise perception that Indians formed the largest group of victims in the case.

To this, Dr Mohd Suhani said he was only using the term provided by the Chemistry Department, but personally agreed that the term South Asians, which also includes Rohingyas, is more accurate.

Besides Dr Mohd Suhani and Dr Zahari, Dr Mohamad Azaini also testified in today’s proceedings.

The RCI continues tomorrow. – Bernama