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Correction to This Article
A Jan. 14 Diplomatic Dispatches item incorrectly described the procedure for collecting DNA samples to identify victims of the tsunami in Thailand. Samples submitted by relatives will be sent to the Thai government through their respective diplomatic missions in Bangkok.

At Thai Embassy, Inspired Activity

By Nora Boustany
Friday, January 14, 2005; Page A14

Perhaps it was the cheerleaders from New Jersey who traveled to Washington to present a donation for Thai victims of last month's tsunami. Or maybe it was the little girl from Massachusetts who wrote a letter conveying her sadness about the loss of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 21-year-old autistic grandson, who was killed while jet-skiing at a resort.

Hundreds of expressions of goodwill in response to the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean have poured in at the Royal Thai Embassy on Wisconsin Avenue, turning its usually serene foyer into a hub of activity. Since then, the embassy's staff of diplomats, assistants, secretaries and even waiters have moved through the dimly lit hallways with more alacrity and purpose.

Read Nora Boustany's previous Diplomatic Dispatches columns.

The outpouring of sympathy arrived at the embassy in telexes, e-mails and regular mail, with contributions coming from all over the United States, said the new ambassador, Kasit Piromya, expressing his country's gratitude for the response.

"Lately, the American people were confronted with military actions -- mainly Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia -- and deluged with post-conflict humanitarian efforts. But this is an ecological calamity; maybe it unites the American people," said Kasit, who arrived in Washington over the summer.

"This is an uncontested undertaking. The beauty of all this is that it is about a cause far away from war. We are grateful to the American people. And we are touched," Kasit said.

In a letter dictated to her parents and addressed "Dear King and Queen," a young girl named Alexandra wrote about her aunt who was in Thailand drinking coconut milk on Christmas day and who survived the disaster.

"She was okay. But I know all the houses were ripped down and on a computer I saw a picture of your grandson and he died. I hope you can imagine in your imagination him alive. Hope you have more grandsons that didn't die. I am Alexandra, I am four years old. I am sad. I am going to send some money."

The ambassador said his duties have multiplied since the calamity. He now works on "reporting, contacting, lobbying, explaining," he said, not only to Thai and State Department officials, but also to relief organizations, legislators, research groups and individuals.

Setting an example for his countrymen, King Bhumibol took 100 children who lost their parents in the tsunami under his wing, the ambassador said.

The king has also announced plans to build a dormitory and school for the orphans and to take care of them and their education until they go to college, Kasit said. The school is to be completed within 10 months in Phang Nga province, the hardest-hit area of the country.

A museum and memorial to the royal grandson who died, Khun Poom Jensen, are also planned.

Now Thai efforts will focus on identifying the remains of thousands of people swept away in the massive waves. More than 5,000 Thais were among the nearly 160,000 people killed in the disaster. Thousands remain missing.

People around the world with relatives who were in Thailand and are still unaccounted for have been asked to send DNA samples to their U.S. embassies, the ambassador said after a meeting at the State Department on Wednesday. The samples will then be couriered to the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.

"A chip will be inserted into the cheeks of recovered bodies to help identify them," Kasit explained.

Kasit said he was gratified by a memorial service held Sunday at the Adas Israel Synagogue that drew ambassadors from several tsunami-hit countries and Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and Jewish religious leaders.

"Why can't this be an example for the world at large? Why kill one another and propagate hate and conflict based on the denial of others' rights? . . . It is all so senseless and futile," Kasit said.

With relief operations underway, the next phase of the aid effort will include getting the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank in Manila more involved in helping countries recover. The ambassador also said experts from around the world with knowledge about coral reefs, early warning systems for disasters and rebuilding infrastructure will be invited to Thailand.

Kasit said Thai commentators have cautioned the government against favoring the tourism industry for assistance over small entrepreneurs, fishermen and farmers. The news media have also warned politicians against using the distribution of relief as a tool in the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for next month, Kasit added.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company