updated 12/2/2006 4:25:32 AM ET 2006-12-02T09:25:32

Touring a Thai gypsy village damaged by the 2004 tsunami, former President Clinton on Saturday expressed concern that most of the people left homeless by the massive waves are still living in temporary shelters.

“Only 30 to 35 percent of the people have been put back into permanent housing,” Clinton said of the nearly half-million homeless survivors in a dozen countries. “We have to do better than that.”

Clinton, on his final trip to the region as the top U.N. envoy for the tsunami recovery effort, also promoted a conservation program to rebuild Thailand’s Andaman Sea Coast, where the tsunami killed more than 5,400 people.

Noting that coastal deforestation significantly worsened the destruction from Hurricane Katrina, Clinton praised the villagers in Hin Look Dio for attempting to preserve their natural habitat. Known as the Moken, the gypsies are seafaring people who live in Thailand and Myanmar.

“This little tree is symbolic of a balanced life and how they (the Moken) help each other preserve their villages,” he said as he planted a mangrove sapling.

Nearly a quarter-million people in 12 Indian Ocean countries died in the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami caused by a magnitude 9.3 earthquake off Indonesia’s Sumatra island.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Clinton to be a special envoy for tsunami relief for a two-year period ending Dec. 31.

Visit to military-style barracks housing 500,000
Clinton flew from Thailand to the Indonesia’s Aceh province, which was hit hardest by the tsunami.

He will visit a military-style barracks built by the government to house some of the nearly 500,000 tsunami survivors, as well as a temporary housing site built by the Australian Red Cross.

He will also visit a school and present land titles to several new homeowners.

Clinton’s Aceh visit comes at a sensitive time, with many survivors complaining that the reconstruction process has been too slow or fraught with problems.

Days after the tsunami, private aid agencies rushed in alongside the U.S. military and other government agencies, and their quick response was credited with preventing the disaster from getting worse.

Since then, billions of aid dollars have flowed into the region and many of the homeless in Aceh have been moved from crowded tent camps into temporary homes. But some survivors have complained they are stuck with poorly built structures that leak, are termite-infested or located in flood zones.

Corruption has also marred the process, with several nongovernment organizations forced to delay projects or rebuild homes after contractors and suppliers ran off with the funds.

Before visiting Thailand and Indonesia, Clinton toured a rebuilt school and new homes Friday in the southern Indian coastal village of Thazanguda that was devastated by the tsunami.

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