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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Madagascar human bones trial ends
By Richard Hamilton
BBC, Antananarivo

People across Madagascar are reacting with horror to the news of a massive trade in human bones.

Madagascar tomb
Respect for the dead is fundamental to society in Madagascar
A court in the east of the country has sentenced 42 people to life imprisonment for violating tombs and trying to sell human remains.

The investigating police say they seized more than two tonnes of bones stolen from over 300 tombs.

Entire container loads of human bones were discovered at the eastern port of Tamatave, but it is not clear what their intended destination was, nor what the bones would be used for.

It seems this macabre practice has been going on for some time.

Mystery

The first arrests of grave robbers were made back in 1997.

In all, 75 suspects were tried, including a doctor and a mayor, and 42 people were convicted.

They were all from peasant communities surrounding the shores of Lac Alaotra, Madagascar's biggest lake.

The traffickers apparently believed they could make a lot of money out of the sale of bones, up to $4,000 a kilo, and that there would be willing customers.

Most desirable apparently were ribs, vertebra and collar-bones.

No-one seems to know what they were being sold for.

There have however been some suggestions that the bones might have been used for some sort of traditional medicine.

Grave-robbing goes against all established norms in Madagascar, where respect for the dead is a fundamental part of the country's tradition and culture.




SEE ALSO:
Madagascar protest turns violent
13 May 03  |  Africa
Madagascar coup arrest
19 Feb 03  |  Africa
Madagascar leader routs rivals
23 Dec 02  |  Africa
Country profile: Madagascar
06 Mar 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Madagascar
06 May 03  |  Country profiles


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