Human remains unearthed in a search for the grave of missing war photographer Sean Flynn will be kept indefinitely in the US, although a recent analysis has shown they may belong to a Cambodian, a US military officer said yesterday.
Amateur diggers found the bone fragments during a much-criticized March dig in search of the resting place of Flynn, the photojournalist son of Hollywood actor Errol Flynn who disappeared covering the Cambodian conflict in 1970. DNA tests have conclusively shown that the bone fragments are not his.
“The remains will be retained at the JPAC indefinitely,” US Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel Wayne Perry wrote in an e-mail yesterday. Lt Col Perry is public affairs director for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, the Hawaii-based agency tasked with finding Americans who went missing in past wars.
JPAC “continues to work on all unresolved cases in the lab,” he said, adding that “the remains do not match any known Westerner for whom JPAC has DNA reference samples.”
In an e-mail on Tuesday, Lt Col Perry said DNA tests have shown the bone pieces are not Flynn’s and that they “appear to be indigenous.”
Non Nget, supreme patriarch of the Mohanikaya order, the majority sect within Theravada Buddhism, said keeping the remains in the US did not go against Cambodian culture.
“It’s good luck for Cambodian people’s bones to be taken abroad and it doesn’t matter if the bones are kept in other countries,” he said.
Digs for human remains are acceptable in Cambodian culture as long as properly marked graves aren’t excavated, according to Non Nget. March’s dig was in a rice field.
Dork Narin, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs, also said keeping the bones in the US was not a problem.
One of the amateur diggers, Dave MacMillan, said yesterday that JPAC should test the remains to see if they belong to other missing journalists.
“JPAC has proven…that the remains are not those of Sean Leslie Flynn,” Mr MacMillan wrote. “But they have not tested the data against the other missing journalists who aren’t American nationals.”
Mr MacMillan said his research showed a group of nine other journalists were executed with Flynn, and that the dental work in the jaw bone that was found is “uncharacteristic of native Cambodian dental work.”
But Lt Col Perry wrote yesterday that the dental work “is wholly consistent with dental work that could have been performed in Southeast Asia.”