Austria releases 71 bodies found in truck for burial

(Reuters) - The 71 badly decomposed bodies found in the back of an abandoned truck in Austria last month have been released for burial, the institution that carried out autopsies on the corpses said on Friday.

The discovery of the remains, presumed to be those of refugees who had to rely on people-smugglers to help them cross the border between Austria and Hungary, caused widespread shock and drew attention to the conditions in which many have fled conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.

Days after they were found, Austria and Germany threw open their borders to tens of thousands of people making their way north across Europe via Greece and the Balkans.

The same motorway where the van was discovered was partially closed on Friday because some of the thousands of people streaming out of Hungary had set off for Vienna on foot.

A statement by the Medical University of Vienna, which examined the remains, did not say where the people were from or what they died of. Its 27-member team did, however, include an Arabist who translated documents found in the truck.

"The result of the Vienna pathologists' post-mortem report is clear, although special investigative methods could only be used in a limited way because of the bodies' advanced state of decomposition," the statement said.

The bodies included those of four children.

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office in the eastern town of Eisenstadt, which is handling the investigation into the deaths, said that the people were presumed to have suffocated in the back of the truck.

Another report had found that the vehicle's storage area, which they had been packed into, was airtight, she added. She declined to say where the burials would take place.

Five arrests have been made in Hungary in connection with the deaths, and one in Bulgaria.

(Reporting by Angelika Gruber and Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)