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Saturday, October 10, 1998 Published at 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Russian fires are 'world disaster'

Forest fires are still burning in eastern Russia

The scale of the damage caused by recent forest fires in Russia's Far East amounts to a world-wide ecological disaster, a United Nations team has said.

The Russian news agency, Itar-Tass, said the team was shocked by the destruction it saw on the island of Sakhalin and the vast region of Khabarovsk near the border with China.

The experts said the damage would have far-reaching consequences not only for neighbouring countries, but for the entire northern hemisphere.

The head of the team, Vladimir Sakhorov, said the UN was seeking further funding to tackle the devastation.

"We are convinced that such fires must be fought not only through efforts at the local level but also through moves by Federal authorities of Russia, as well as with assistance from other countries," he said.

More than 1.5 million hectares of taiga, the coniferous forest-land characteristic of Siberia, have been destroyed since the fires began early this year. Two-thirds of Sakhalin Island has been affected by the blazes, which have killed three people and left 700 homeless.

In many places fires are still raging, despite snow and rain. Heavy smoke is preventing air surveys from being carried out and there has been difficulty finding sufficient funds to tackle the situation.

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