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Judge to Decide Fate of Tsunami Survivor 'Baby 81'

Judge to Decide Fate of Tsunami Survivor 'Baby 81'

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KALMUNAI, Sri Lanka (AP) -- More than five weeks after the tsunami ripped him out of her arms, Baby 81 may soon have a mother again. The question is which one.

On Wednesday, a judge will hear a custody petition by one of nine women who have each claimed him as her son.

Although he has recovered from his injuries, the infant has remained hospitalized in this eastern Sri Lankan town because of the uncertainty of his mother's identity.

"This baby has gone through enough trouble, time has now come for him to go home," said H.M.P. Herath, a police inspector involved in the case.

The boy is known as "Baby 81" because he was the 81st person to be admitted to the Kalmunai hospital on the day the tsunami swept across southern Asia, killing more than 100,000 people.

But Jenita Jeyarajah, 25, and her husband Murugupillai say his real name is Abilass and that he was two months old at the time. According to Jenita, the waves ripped him from her arms as they crashed against her beach-front house.

Her husband says he is confident he will get back his child, even though he has no records to prove the child is his. The couple says they lost their family documents to the tsunami.

"I believe in God, and I am sure my baby will be given to me," said Jeyarajah, 31, a barber by profession.

Hospital officials say nine women claimed the baby in the days after the tragedy when parents were frantically searching for missing children.

But only the Jeyarajahs filed for custody with the court. The other women have not pursued the matter legally, police and hospital officials say.

On Jan. 12, a court ordered the hospital to give the baby to the Jeyarajahs until his parentage could be determined. But doctors refused to comply, arguing that the child still needed medical attention.

The court is to convene again Wednesday and may order a DNA test -- an expensive procedure in the poor region.

The case is to be heard by a single judge, M.P. Mohaideen, with no jury.

On Tuesday, some of the 82 nurses at the hospital who have kept a 24-hour vigil at his crib visited the baby to say goodbye.

"We are praying that he is handed over to the right parents," said nurse S. Rajeswari. "At the same time I don't want to leave the baby. I will be very sad when he goes."

There are six other infants in the ward, all of them being cared for by their mothers.

"He is the only one who is alone," Rajeswari said.

Jeyarajah is allowed to visit the boy twice a week, on the condition she not lift him from his crib. "It's like visiting a prisoner," she said earlier in her ordeal.

Baby 81 was found caked in mud among dead bodies and debris about nine hours after the tsunami slammed into Sri Lanka's eastern shore, witnesses said.

The coastal Ampara district, where Kalmunai is located, reported more than 10,000 deaths in the tsunami -- about a third of Sri Lanka's total.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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