BONES WASHED UP IN YAP REMAIN A MYSTERY

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By Scott Radway

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (February 10, 2002 - Pacific Sunday News)---Two unearthed human skeletons, three still buried. A faded identification card. A call to the Indonesian embassy in Tokyo.

That's nearly all Pius Chotailug, the police chief of the Federated States of Micronesia, has to go on in the mystery that brought bamboo rafts carrying sun-bleached skeletons to his islands.

More than four months after the 13 rafts -- two carrying bones -- started washing ashore in the FSM, there remains very little to go on, Chotailug said.

A big hindrance to his investigation is the fact that local villagers in the western state of Yap, out of respect, buried the skeletons when the boats hit the shores of their remote islands.

"It's hard to piece it together, because most of the evidence was destroyed by the islanders," Chotailug said. "We have somewhat sketchy information at the moment."

And only two skeletons have been dug up. The other three skeletons -- one of a child -- remain in the ground, because police investigators have been unable to travel to the remote island where they are buried, Chotailug said.

The best lead is a water-damaged identification card found in a wallet along with the two skeletons. Still legible was a name "Wilmart," his occupation "laborer," and most importantly his address, "Bitung," which is on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

That's why Chotailug called the Indonesian embassy in Tokyo. He wants someone there to find out who "Wilmart" was and if he could have floated more than 1,000 miles to Yap on a bamboo raft.

Pacific Daily News calls to the Indonesian embassy in Tokyo were not returned last week.

Chotailug said the police department is also studying the ocean currents to see if the rafts could have been pulled past the Philippines and out into the FSM. The rafts were built of giant bamboo, which does not grow in the FSM, he added.

Although the police force is not equipped for detailed forensic investigation, Chotailug said, a local archeologist who examined the bones determined the individuals were dead for two to three months.

And there was a small hole in one of the skulls, but, Chotailug said, it does not appear to be from a gunshot.

"There is no fragment and the hole is so small," Chotailug said, adding that it could have been made by a bird.

The deaths "don't look like foul play, but I may be wrong," Chotailug said.

If he had to offer a theory, the police chief said, he believes the rafts were manned by fisherman who were dragged out to sea. There were feathers in the wallet, which are at times used for fishing lures, he added.

Or then again, Chotailug said, maybe there is more to it. Maybe there is a connection between the rafts and a headless body that washed ashore on an island in southern Yap State two years ago, he said.

That file remains open.

"Right now, we are just waiting for help from our neighbors," Chotailug said, in Indonesia.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam).

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