Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do, the second highest dignitary in the long-suppressed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), called on Buddhists to raise further relief aid, according the group's information service.
The official death toll from last week's devastating flood Wednesday stood at 592 and was expected to rise, with damage assessments now pushing 275 million dollars.
Donations from around the world have been channeled to the UBCV and distributed on the spot to many of the nearly one million people made homeless by swirling floodwaters that ravaged Vietnam's central region, the bulletin said.
''UBCV monks and nuns have travelled all over the devastated provinces by bus, bicycle and boat to distribute tons of rice, instant noodles, candles, medicines and other relief aid to the homeless,'' it said.
A second relief phase is aimed at longer-term projects such as reconstructing homes and financial aid for poor families.
''There is so much to be done,'' said the 70-year-old monk, who is in poor health and lives at Thanh Ninh Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City. ''Despite our limited possibilities, the UBCV will do its utmost to provide help wherever it can.''
Monks contacted at the monastery said Do was ill and unable to speak with reporters.
Verifying the donations is effectively impossible, as the UBCV would make no formal presentation of aid, yet a government official did indirectly confirm that Hanoi has accepted the donations.
''If anyone has the kind heart to contribute or give relief goods to people in the central region, we will receive donations from them no matter who they are,'' said Ha Thi Lien, head of relief committee of the Fatherland Front, when asked about the UBCV effort.
The Fatherland Front, which is the mass mobilization arm of the party, also oversees all religious affairs and has refused to recognize the UBCV since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
Do, who heads the UBCV's Institute for the Propagation of the Dharma and is one of Vietnam's top dissidents, has spent more than ten years in internal exile and three years in prison.
Rescue missions have got Do in trouble once before. In August 1995, he was sentenced to five years in jail for his involvement in a UBCV-led rescue mission for flood victims in the Mekong Delta.
Released last year under a presidential amnesty, Do remains under tight surveillance and has made repeated claims of harrassment by authorities.
''Nobody is denying relief efforts this time. It's all being taken,'' said one international aid worker who asked not to be named.
More than 3.5 million dollars in international relief aid has already poured into Vietnam to assist the flood victims, according to the latest official figures. dpa mm fz
Copyright (c) 1999 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 11/17/1999 06:56:42
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