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Thursday, December 24, 1998 Published at 14:10 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Cambodia investigates new waste dump

Thousands fled an earlier toxic waste discovery

Police and environment officials in Cambodia say they are investigating another case of a foreign company importing waste into the country.

The authorities said more than 650 tonnes of imported scraps of film from Taiwan had been found at a site in the province of Sihanoukville.

Police in Sihanoukville say that the materials, including films for x-rays and cassette and video tapes, were imported from South Korea several months ago and are being kept on land belonging to a local company.

Toxin fears

The Environment Minister, Mok Mareth, said he feared the plastic waste could contain arsenic, chrome and other toxic substances which could harm the environment.

"No waste at all is allowed to be imported into Cambodia. We cannot keep it here. We are a small country. Why should we keep anybody else's waste?" he said.

The South Korean embassy said it had no knowledge of the case. "It's a very sensitive matter and we will do our best to find out," said embassy official Kim Kyung-hun. "As of now we have no information."

Environment officials have already gone to the site to investigate.

Mass exodus

[ image: Soldiers in protective gear bag up the waste]
Soldiers in protective gear bag up the waste
Earlier this month 3,000 tonnes of suspected toxic waste from Taiwan were dumped in Sihanoukville. Its discovery caused thousands of people to flee because of concern about possible health hazards.

Cambodia's environmental law currently does not prohibit the import of waste materials but includes clauses which could lead to the prosecution of individuals found responsible for destroying the environment and endangering public health.

Hundreds of soldiers, wearing chemical protection suits and masks, have already begun work to clear up the Taiwanese waste, placing it into sealed metal containers. Samples have been sent to Hong Kong and Thailand for evaluation.

Pressure to send waste back

In Phnom Penh the Green Formosa Front, a Taiwanese environmental group, issued a statement criticising the Taiwanese government for allowing the shipment and calling on Formosa Plastics to ship back the waste immediately.

"Enterprises which produce this kind of hazardous waste should be capable of disposing of them," it said.

The government has said it wants the waste shipped back to Taiwan as soon as possible and will be seeking compensation from the Taiwanese company which imported it. It says that those involved in allowing the materials into Cambodia will face legal action.

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