Mass burial for 23 unidentified victims of the Samjhauta Express

MEHRANA: Hundreds clambered across barricades on Saturday to force their way into a mass funeral of 23 Pakistanis killed in a fire-bomb attack on the Samjhauta Express last Sunday. They were among the 68 people killed in the attack.

``They may have come from across the borders but we are brothers,'' shouted Indian mourner Usman Ali as police cordonned off the mass burial site at Mehrana near Panipat.

Undertakers, wearing surgical gloves and medical face masks against the stench of rotting flesh, lowered cheap wooden coffins into shallow graves as mourners wiped tears. But it was a funeral of strangers with the remains of 23 victims charred beyond recognition.

``Oh my God! This is the coffin of a baby,'' cried Noor Hussein as grave-diggers gently lowered a small coffin simply marked ``No: 9'' into a pre-selected grave.

The undertakers showered rose petals on the cream-coloured coffins as officials unveiled a granite plaque engraved with prayers in memory of the unknown victims. Islamic priests read out verses from the Koran as mourners broke through the police barricades at the supposedly high-security funeral site.

``They were our national guests but we failed in our duty to offer them protection ... This is a day of shame,'' said another mourner. `

`Now do not stop us from attending their funeral service,'' he said.

Officials carefully marked each coffin with indelible ink before they were lowered into graves identified with matching numbers.

``This is being done because both in India and Pakistan DNA samples have been collected and if some match then we may have to exhume those bodies and send them to their loved ones,'' Haryana Inspector-General of police Sharad Kumar told AFP.

``That's the least we can do for these people,'' he said as masses of people arrived by tractors, bicycle or on foot at the 700-year-old graveyard.

Haryana Chief Minister Bupinder Singh Hooda visited the site to pay his last respects. AFP, AP

PTI reports

from Islamabad:

"Why should I lie?"

Rana Shaukat Ali, who reached Pakistan on Saturday with the bodies of his five children killed in the Samjhauta blasts, has criticised the media for pursuing him for stories.

He also said he was shown sketches of suspects by Indian officials but could not identify them. "When what was shown was not what I had seen, why should I tell a lie?"

Earlier, at Panipat where he had gone to identify the bodies of his children, he said, "I am being treated here as if I know everything about the incident and the media is after me. Even as I speak to you, a number of journalists are outside the Pakistan High Commission's temporary office here for my trial."

On reaching here, he said, "They [media[ want stories for their publications at a time when I am not in my senses because of the death of my five children."

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