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Sunday, March 21, 1999 Published at 16:24 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Pig slaughter begins in Malaysia

Pigs were abandoned as fear grew

Malaysian soldiers have begun shooting thousands of pigs in an attempt to control the spread of the Japanese encephalitis virus, which has killed up to 50 people.

Officials say more than 300,000 pigs will be destroyed over a 10-day period in villages in the south-western state of Negri Sembilan.

[ image: Soldiers on pig-alert]
Soldiers on pig-alert
Thousands of villagers have abandoned their homes out of fear of the virus, and those who remained were evacuated to avoid accidents.

The officials say they will wipe out the entire pig population in the area.

There is no cure for the deadly virus which is transmitted from pigs to humans via mosquitoes. Known as "plague of the Orient", it attacks the brain and causes a high fever.

Exports suffer

Fears that the meat is contaminated because of the virus has wreaked havoc on Malaysia's £250m pork business.

Eileen Whelan: Soldiers are to destroy 35,000 pigs over the next few days
Thailand has banned all imports of live pigs or pork from Malaysia, and has set up a patrol unit on the border to enforce the order.

Singapore has also suspended the entry of live pigs, as well as horses, after a man working in a slaughterhouse died from Japanese encephalitis.

[ image: Singapore pork stall quiet after death of slaughterhouse worker]
Singapore pork stall quiet after death of slaughterhouse worker
The farmers whose pigs are being destroyed are demanding compensation.

The government has said it will give them some humanitarian aid to see them through the crisis, but our correspondent says many of them now face financial ruin.

Many farmers in Malaysia's largest pig breeding area abandoned their animals and fled in panic as the number of cases of Japanese encephalitis rose by the day.

New virus

News of the discovery of a second deadly virus, similar to a strain of the encephalitis virus discovered in Australia five years ago, has further added to the confusion.

Officials say they do not know for sure how the new virus is transmitted to and from pigs, though they believe it is neither highly contagious nor airborne.

Foreign experts have been invited to Malaysia to investigate the new strain of virus that has been detected.

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19 Mar 99 | Asia-Pacific
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