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Colombia pays final farewells to child victims of bus fire

Thousands of Colombians paid their last respects to 28 children who died when an overcrowded bus burst into flames, in one of this nation's worst ever tragedies.

FUNDACIõN, Colombia: Thousands of Colombians paid their last respects on Wednesday to 28 children who died when an overcrowded bus burst into flames, in one of this nation's worst ever tragedies.

A sombre crowd lined the streets as a funeral procession departed the city of Barranquilla en route to the nearby town of Fundacion - site of tragedy as well as the location of the cemetery where the young victims are to be laid to rest.

Thirty-three children died in the May 18 disaster, five of whom already have been buried, officials said.

Local authorities said up to 12,000 people were expected to pay their last respects at the cemetery.

"The entire town wants to be here," said Fundacion's Mayor Luz Estela Duran, who told local press that 33 trees would be planted in remembrance of the children.

President Juan Manuel Santos was expected to be among the dignitaries at the burial for the children, who were so badly burned that they were identifiable only through DNA tests.

The May 18 tragedy occurred when three children, aged between three and 12 years old, were returning from church services in Fundacion, a small, impoverished town in northern Colombia.

The bus burst into flames after its unlicensed driver used a canister to refuel it on a sweltering hot day.

The disaster prompted Colombia to decree three days of national mourning and led authorities to tighten transit restrictions and crack down on rules governing the road-worthiness of vehicles.

The driver of the bus - who lost two of his own children in the tragedy - and the pastor of the church who hired him, have been arrested and face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of criminal negligence and other crimes related to the tragedy.

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