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. Ivory Coast Toxic Dump Victims Upset Over Pay Deal

The multinational Trafigura had chartered the Probo Koala cargo freighter (pictured) last year to transport oil and waste, but, like the Greek firm that owns the vessel, disclaims responsibility for the discharge itself.
by Staff Writers
Abidjan (AFP) Feb 14, 2007
Victims of toxic waste dumped in Ivory Coast, where thousands were poisoned and 10 died, expressed alarm Wednesday after the Dutch shipper of the residue signed a pay-off deal with the government. "This agreement was signed only with the Ivorian state, but it should also have been signed with victims' associations," Yao Pipira, a leader of a group of affected residents in the commercial capital Abidjan said.

The multinational Trafigura on Tuesday agreed to pay 152 million euros (198 million dollars) to Ivory Coast in an amicable out-of-court settlement during a deal with the government that exonerated the firm from legal proceedings.

Pipira, who represents people living in three districts of the port city where the waste was illicitly dumped late last August, said local people were not critical of the deal itself, "but we fear that it was done without us and that victims will not reap the benefit."

"One hundred billion CFA francs (the total amount of the accord in local currency) is derisory for almost 100,000 victims," he added.

Trafigura agreed to pay the money in an amicable settlement "for damages sustained and the repayment of pollution cleaning costs," according to the text of the signed deal seen by AFP.

International environmental watchdog Greenpeace slammed the accord in a statement Wednesday.

"This pact with the devil certainly has the advantage of providing the funds to Ivory Coast to pay for expensive clean up operations, but it prevents full light to be shed on what happened," the group said.

The multinational had chartered the Probo Koala cargo freighter last year to transport oil and waste, but, like the Greek firm that owns the vessel, disclaims responsibility for the discharge itself.

An Ivorian local firm dumped the caustic soda and petroleum residues on city waste tips and the entire Ivory Coast government resigned the following month, acknowledging negligence.

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, who witnessed the signing of the deal on Tuesday, told journalists afterwards: "It is a good agreement which allows the state to compensate the victims."

In return for the payment agreed Tuesday, Ivory Coast commits itself under the agreement to "guarantee the compensation of the victims."

"I will be fierce towards anyone who seeks to embezzle this money," Gbagbo warned, but the head of state came under fierce criticism Wednesday from Yves Lokpo, the representative of residents of two other affected districts.

"We're worried, because President Gbagbo already promised us 40 million CFA francs (60,975 euros) when he received us last December 7, but none of that sum has come our way," he said.

A Trafigura representative present at Tuesday's signing, Roald Goethe, described the agreement as a fair and just settlement of the matter, adding that the poisoning was an accident.

The deal implied no admission of guilt on the part of the company or the Ivorian government, Trafigura said in a statement.

Bob van der Goen, a Dutch lawyer for some of the victims, however insisted Wednesday that the deal implied "recognition of responsibility by the company".

The multinational, which specialises in trading oil and metals, undertook to identify and clean up any sites which could still contain toxic waste linked to its shipment.

Two French executives of Trafigura, Claude Dauphin and Jean-Pierre Valentini, were indicted and held over the case from mid-September, but the deal opened the way to their release Wednesday.

Kablan N'Zi, a representative of a Trafigura subsidiary, Puma Energy, was also freed, Eric De Turkheim, a Trafigura administrator, told AFP.

However, the company may yet face a bid for compensation in Britain, where a London court ruled that groups of victims can file a joint suit for damages. Trafigura is based in the Netherlands and Switzerland, but also does business in London.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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