Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp rebuffed efforts by a government delegation to talk about compensation for dumping toxic waste into Cambodia, a member of the team said Tuesday.
Although further talks are possible, the sentiment at the meeting last Friday indicates Cambodia might have no choice but to seek legal action, officials said.
“They claimed that the shipment of their waste was legal,” Cambodia’s Pollution Control Director Heng Nareth, a member of the three-person delegation, said Tuesday. “They claimed that their company had contracted with a shipping company to ship the waste out and dump it anywhere that was safe and would not affect the environment.”
Formosa Plastics reportedly agreed Friday after meetings in Taipei to remove nearly 3,000 tons of mercury-tainted waste from Cambodia within 60 days. Both Om Yentieng, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen who led the delegation, and Formosa President Lee Chih-tsun told reporters in Taiwan that issues of compensation were not discussed.
Environment Minister Mok Mareth, who was not a member of the team, said Tuesday his understanding is no figures were discussed, because Formosa abruptly cut off the conversation.
“We tried [to raise the issue], but they avoided it,” Mok Mareth said. “We didn’t raise the amount because they said they would not talk about it.”
Mok Mareth said that while further negotiations are possible, he also is being directed by Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng to consult with experts on what kind of legal action Cambodia might be able to take against Formosa.
Previously, Mok Mareth indicated that Cambodia would demand millions of dollars, perhaps as much as $10 million, for environmental and other damages caused by the early December dumping of waste outside Sihanoukville.
Sar Kheng, who Hun Sen put in charge of monitoring the incident, was in a meeting late Tuesday afternoon and unavailable for comment. But on Sunday, he said he could not discuss the case in detail because Om Yentieng had yet to inform him about the results of the negotiations.
It was unclear Tuesday if Om Yentieng, who was traveling to Beijing on Tuesday with Hun Sen, had briefed Sar Kheng on the matter. An adviser said he didn’t think such a meeting had occurred, but Mok Mareth said he believed some kind of briefing had taken place.
Sar Kheng previously said that legal avenues would be explored if Formosa did not provide compensation.
Sou Sovuth, another member of the team and director of a Ministry of Environment data bureau, also said Tuesday that compensation was raised at the meeting, “but it is a very complicated issue.” He referred most other questions to Om Yentieng.
Formosa Plastics maintains that the waste was non-toxic when shipped from Taiwan. But independent tests have shown high toxicity.
Heng Nareth said Formosa also claimed in its talks that Cambodia as a destination for the waste was a decision made by a Taiwanese shipping company without Formosa’s knowledge.