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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Frustration and secrecy in toxic saga

Frustration and secrecy in toxic saga

toxic.jpg
toxic.jpg

SHADES OF WASTE

A local farmer riding his ox-cart passes dozens of sealed drums containing the Taiwanese toxic waste which have raised health concerns in Sihanoukville.

NEGOTIATIONS are pending with Formosa Plastics, the Taiwanese petrochemical giant

that dumped 3,000 tons of toxic waste on Sihanoukville in early December, but look

set to be shrouded in secrecy.

According to Dr Mok Mareth, Minister of Environment, the talks were due to begin

Feb 4 with a representative of Formosa Plastics visiting Phnom Penh.

He said the delegation is trying to press Formosa to take all the waste back and

agree to a $10 million-plus compensation deal.

However, Mareth was vague as to who would actually be on the negotiation team.

"It is a committee - but not the government," he said, adding that representatives

from his ministry might be on the committee but he himself would not be. He declined

to name the leader of the delegation or give any more details.

Mareth implied the negotiations were out of his hands, expressing confusion and frustration

with the pace of negotiations.

"They negotiate a long time with the Taiwan company," he said. "Why

so long? Why the delay? It is still a question mark for me ... We should work 100

percent for justice."

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party issued a Jan 25 position paper demanding that all

deals between Formosa and the government should be transparent, and raised the possibility

that a deal may have already been struck between the government and the company in

secret.

"It's the kind of thing they've done before," said SRP spokesman Rich Garella.

Legal Aid of Cambodia, who is representing dozens of families displaced by the toxic

dump, have requested observer status at the talks, but were refused, according to

Attorney Consultant Michele Brandt.

"We were told 'absolutely not'", she said Feb 2. "But this process

should be transparent. We want to make sure that [local villagers'] interests are

considered fairly; we are in a good position to know what those interests are."

Meanwhile, local and international NGOs are taking their own steps to monitor the

situation. An NGO working group, including representatives of the NGO Forum Environmental

Group, LAC, and Medecins Sans Frontieres, has been set up to carry out daily monitoring

of the site and surrounding area.

Mareth said that a sign had been erected to warn people away from the site "a

long time ago", but fences or guards are still lacking.

He also expressed frustration with the lack of legal progress in the case.

"In Bhopal, the court prosecuted and demanded compensation. Here, the court

refuses all my explanations ... Article 22, 23 of our environmental law are clear,

but I don't understand ... the court says no evidence," he complained.

"I try to find the best solution to prosecute but it's very difficult."

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