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The BBC's Valerie Jones reports
"Cyanide in the water kills everything in its path"
 real 28k

Nick Thorpe reports from Miskolc
"The Hungarian prime minister says the country will take legal action over the spill"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 15:22 GMT
Firm rejects cyanide damage claims

Aurul gold mine, Baia Mare Company officials and politicians are visiting the mine

Australian mining firm Esmeralda Exploration has described as "politically motivated" many claims of huge ecological damage resulting from a Romanian cyanide spill.

Company officials arrived in Romania on Wednesday to inspect the Aurul gold mine in Baia Mare, which it co-owns.

Hungary and Yugoslavia have blamed the plant for a leak of cyanide which they say has killed hundreds of tonnes of fish in the Tisza and Danube rivers.

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But a spokesman for Esmeralda refused to accept that Aurul was to blame.

"The vast majority of the emotive material that is coming out of Hungary, Serbia, and certainly from some sections of the media, has got to be treated as purely speculative, and in many cases politically motivated," said Chris Codrington.

He suggested that the fish could have been killed by chemical spills from industrial sites along the Tisza, dynamite explosions used to break up winter ice or raw sewage pumped into the river.

Asked about the Hungarian claims, Mr Codrington said: "Lying might be a little bit strong, but exaggeration is not unreasonable."

Fishing ban

The Romanian Environment Ministry said the cyanide had reached the reservoir of the Iron Gates hydroelectric plant on the Danube below Belgrade and was moving downstream at 3km (two miles) per hour.

Tokaj demonstrators Crowds protest on the banks of the Tisza in Hungary
"As a precaution, steps have been taken to ban the use of water from the Danube for drinking and household use, as well as to ban fishing in the Danube," said a ministry statement.

It also said the cyanide concentration was expected to drop significantly over the next 24 hours.

Romanian Environment Minister Romica Tomescu has flown to Baia Mare with Pekka Haavisto, a former Finnish environment minister who heads the Balkans Task Force of the United Nations' Environment Programme.

They will be joined on Thursday by EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom and Hungarian Environment Minister Pepo Pal to inspect the dam where the spill occurred.

Both Hungary and Yugoslavia are threatening to sue Romania for damages if their demands for compensation are not met.

The environment group Friends of the Earth has renewed calls to ban dangerous mining technologies.

The group points to the dangers of the cyanide heap-leaching technique used to extract gold from waste mining materials.

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See also:
13 Feb 00 |  Europe
Cyanide spill reaches Danube
15 Feb 00 |  Europe
Two weeks to kill the Tisza
14 Feb 00 |  Europe
Death of a river
14 Feb 00 |  Europe
Romania cautious on cyanide risk
14 Feb 00 |  Media reports
Media concern at cyanide spill
11 Feb 00 |  Media reports
Hungary's shock at cyanide disaster
10 Feb 00 |  Europe
Cyanide spill wreaks havoc

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