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Twins Return in Separate Coffins to Iran

July 11, 2003

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Friends wept and a brass band played solemn music as the coffins of formerly conjoined twins _ who touched the world with their determination to lead separate lives _ arrived in Iran on Thursday for burial.

Ladan and Laleh Bijani, 29, died within 90 minutes of each other Tuesday after doctors in Singapore separated their heads but failed to control the bleeding in the unprecedented surgery. Their deaths caused grief around the world but particularly in Iran, the twins’ homeland.

Some 60 friends and government officials, led by the head of the State Welfare Organization Mohammad Reza Rahchamani, were at Tehran airport Thursday in a reception usually reserved for slain soldiers and prominent figures.

Yellow-jacketed airport staff carried the coffins, draped in brown cloth, off the plane. Each coffin bore a bouquet of white flowers tied with black ribbon.

``They are separated now and rest in peace,″ said close friend Noushin Mehran, as she watched with tears in her eyes. ``They died while struggling for an independent separate life.″

After the military band finished a piece, a squad of soldiers saluted the coffins and they were placed in an ambulance en route to Tehran’s Grand Mosque, where hundreds of mourners paid their respects.

The bodies will be flown to Shiraz in southern Iran on Friday, and are to be buried later that day in Lohrasb, the southwestern village in which they were born.

Their parents, Dadollah Bijani and Maryam Safari, were said to be in Firouzabad, a town close to Lohrasb, on Thursday.

President Mohammad Khatami paid tribute to the twins’ resolve and patience, the government-run daily Iran reported Thursday.

``We should appreciate the patience of these two innocent birds who tolerated their difficult life and enthusiastically welcomed a happier future,″ Khatami was quoted as saying.

The sisters, who had spent years looking for surgeons who would try to separate them, left Iran seven months ago to prepare for the operation in Singapore.

They made many friends in Singapore, where more than 400 people said prayers for them Wednesday in a mosque.

Muslim nurses at Raffles Hospital who had become friends of the twins during months of preoperative tests helped women from Singapore’s Iranian community purify the bodies for the 4,000-mile flight back to Iran.

The women wound wide strips of cloth around their bodies, from their shoulders to their feet, in accordance with Shiite Muslim tradition.

The operation was the first time surgeons tried to separate adults joined at the head. The surgery has been performed successfully on infants, whose brains can more easily recover.

The twins, who were fully aware of the risks of the operation, won wide admiration in Iran and elsewhere for their courage. Iranian television and newspapers gave extensive coverage to their lives and the operation _ which lasted more than 50 hours and was carried out by a team of 28 doctors and about 100 nurses and technicians.

``If God wants us to live the rest of our lives as two separate, independent individuals, we will,″ Ladan Bijani had said.

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