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Thai government sets up disaster fund as floods wreak damage in south

The Thai government set up a $20 million disaster fund yesterday as officials said more than 900 people may have died in floods that engulfed the south of the country in the last week. Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan told reporters 429 bodies had been recovered. A spokesman for the relief coordinating center in Hat Yai in the south said about 500 people were still missing.

Agriculture Minister Sanan Kachornprasat, reacting to charges that unrestrained logging had caused huge mudslides, announced his ministry would try to halt the destruction of the country's forests by limiting logging concessions.

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Environmentalists say forest covers only about 12 percent of Thailand and even that will disappear unless the government stops both illegal loggers and cutting in concessions already granted.

The Cabinet approved the disaster fund after hearing reports that flooding had inundated 1.6 million acres of farmland, killed more than 150,000 cattle, and resulted in an estimated $120 million damage.

Two-fifths of the emergency fund was to be used to buy rice to ferry to the homeless. Food prices in flood areas have rocketed because of shortages and profiteering, local officials said.

Britain and the United States announced they were providing aid. Money also poured in from Thais contributing to special relief funds. The full scale of the flooding did not become known until the weekend because roads, railroads, and telephone lines were cut and many of the affected villages were in remote areas.

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