Maldivian Foreign Minister Fathulla Jameel said on Sunday the death toll and damage in the Indian Ocean could have been minimised if authorities had been alerted when the tsunamis began after an undersea earthquake near Indonesia.

"The research and information is there. But unfortunately the international scientific community works in strange ways. They don't want to share their information with us," Jameel told AFP.

"No one told us about the tsunami. We were hit one and half hours after Sri Lanka. No one alerted us. Sri Lanka itself was hit several hours after the earthquake and I presume no one told them either."

Official figures show 82 people were killed and 26 reported missing in the Maldives when the 26 December tsunamis swept across the Indian Ocean, killing nearly 160,000 people.

Tourists invited

Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said the best way foreigners could help his country's recovery effort was by spending their holidays in this country, known as one of the most exotic tourist destinations in Asia.

Most of Maldives' islets are less
than a metre above sea level

Jameel said the seven-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which had been due to hold a summit in Dhaka Sunday, would now discuss the tsunami tragedy affecting four member states when they hold the rescheduled meet on 7 February.

However, he said a SAARC initiative alone to set up an early warning system would be insufficient.

The minister called for a wider effort to involve all Indian Ocean states.

Sea walls needed

"Having an early warning itself is not enough. Even if we get an early warning, where can we go? Climb a coconut tree?" Jameel said, adding that sea walls needed to be built on the main island Male.

He said if the Maldives had been alerted to the impending sea surge on December 26, they would have been better prepared to meet the disaster as people on the beaches could have been warned.

The Maldives is a low-lying nation of 1192 coral islands scattered about 850km across the equator and most of the islets are less than a metre above sea level.  

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due to visit Vilufushi island, whose all 1156 residents have been moved out to four nearby islands that escaped relatively unscathed.