Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Deputies conspired against me, says Governor

Deputies conspired against me, says Governor

Deputies conspired against me, says Governor

SIHANOUKVILLE'S Governor, Ith Chethola, says his three Deputy Governors have conspired

behind his back and illegally approved the construction of a factory on the site

of Sihanoukville's infamous toxic waste dump.

On December 4, 1998, Taiwan's Formosa Plastics Corporation (FPC) dumped 2,900 tons

of toxic waste at the site - only 15 kilometers from Sihanoukville - containing mercury

levels 20,000 times over safety limits as well as concentrations of dioxin and polychlorinated

biphenyls.

Two people died after coming in contact with the waste.

On December 23, 1998, the Government launched a cleanup. After negotiations between

the Government and the FPC, the waste was transported out of Cambodia on March 30,

1999.

Authorities in Sihanoukville have so far refused to say who is behind the development

project, but the Post has learned that Major Ros Teth, Deputy Commander of the Sihanoukville

Army Unit, owns the toxic waste site land on which illegal construction of a factory

has begun.

Governor Ith Chethola said, "There is a group of people in this city who do

what they like. I am the one who tries to crack down on illegal construction while

my Deputy Governors help protect the illegal developers.

"About three weeks ago someone broke into my office and stole my stamp and took

documents. The Deputy Governors don't like me because I am cracking down on illegal

activities.

"The stamp theft relates directly to the toxic waste site. The Deputy Governors

approved the project without my knowledge and they did not report the sale of the

containers... They will do anything for money."

Chethola said he had seen the construction at the toxic waste site but had not yet

met with the directors of Sihanoukville's Department of Land Management because they

are in Phnom Penh.

He said that while on a recent trip to Beijing, city officials used his stolen stamp

to also approve the construction of a cassava flour production factory belonging

to the business tycoon Mong Reththy.

On August 9 the Post visited the toxic waste site after numerous attempts to get

information about its development from authorities.

The 143 shipping containers which were once used to store the toxic waste there had

been removed. An administration building had been completed, and the foundation for

the factory was being laid.

A soldier in civilian clothes working as a guard for the Deputy Commander told the

Post construction began at the site in early July. He said it was a joint project

between Teth and a Taiwanese firm.

When contacted by the Post Sihanoukville's First Deputy Governor, Chun Sirun, said

he knew nothing about the factory project, but the Council of Ministers should know

the details.

The Minister for the Council of Ministers, Sok An, said he had not been informed

about development of the site.

Sihanoukville's Second Vice Governor, Puth Chandarith, said he didn't know about

the factory project either, but he thought Third Governor Sborng Sarath might be

able to provide some information.

Sarath said all he knew about the project was that a small building had been constructed

to house staff looking after the land there.

After the Post requested information from Sihanoukville's Department of Land Management

about the project, the site was visited by Department's Director, So Sok, on August

10.

Sok said Deputy Commander Teth told him he started construction without permission

because he felt pity for unemployed construction workers.

Sok told the Post he would issue a letter to the Deputy Commander, as well as relevant

authorities, demanding construction be halted till official permission to develop

the site had been granted. Governor Chethola said he has since received no information

about the factory from Sok.

But on August 17 Hun Phy, Deputy Director of the Department of Land Management, said

a Taiwanese company named Dragon Heaven was developing the site to produce tiles

and bricks.

The Director of Sihanoukville's Department of Environment said the company had not

asked for the necessary permission from his department to go ahead with the project.

Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, an organization which monitors the global

movements of toxic waste, said the development of the site is "utterly inappropriate"

until it has been proven to be safe.

"Are there hotspots of mercury in the nearby wells, or in the dust and soils

around the site? This area was a toxic waste dumpsite. It is unheard of to turn it

over to normal usage without conducting thorough testing," he said.

Puckett said the scrapping of the containers is also potentially dangerous to workers

unless they have been proven to be mercury-free.

In March the Secretary of State for the Council of Ministers, Sum Manith, gave permission

to approve a request by Sihanoukville authorities to auction "143 toxic waste

containers".

In June Third Deputy Governor Sborng Sarath sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior

and Sihanoukville City Hall informing them that 80 of the toxic waste containers

had been sold to a Nhanh Siphon, a businessman from Steung Hao, for $200 each.

When contacted by the Post on August 15 Sarath said he believed the containers had

been shipped to Thailand via Poipet to be sold as scrap metal.

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