Dong Nai farmers agree to drop lawsuit against river polluter

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The majority of affected farmers in Dong Nai province have voted to accept Vedan Vietnam's compensation offer for its polluting the Thi Vai River between 1994-2008.


On Friday and Saturday, August 27-28, representatives from the Dong Nai Farmers Association said that more than 5,000 surveys were distributed to the affected farmers.


All but 13 farmers opted to accept Vedan's offer to pay a total of VND119.5 billion (US$6.1 million) in compensation, the association said.  


They have also agreed to drop their private suits against the company.


In addition to the 13 farmers who opted to take up lawsuits against Vedan, 41 farmers have refused to drop their existing suits against the Taiwanese MSG manufacturer, the farmers association said.


Tran Van Quang, vice chairman of the Dong Nai Farmers Association, said they will ask the Dong Nai People's Committee how to handle the hold-outs.


Still, many farmers who agreed to Vedan's offer said they aren't really satisfied with the compensation, but they are relieved that they will get something for their trouble, VnExpress reported.


"Most of the people here agreed [to the offer]; I couldn't refuse it, as majority rules," Bui Ngoc Truyen from Long Thanh District, told the news website, adding that about ten farmers authorized him to vote for them.


Some said they accepted the offer, because they don't see any hope in suing the company.


In 2008, Vedan was caught discharging untreated effluents directly into the Thi Vai River through secret underground pipes.


Government inspectors found that the company had been doing so for some 14 years.


The discovery sparked public outcry which kept going up as the company declined to meet the compensation requests of the affected farmers. Over the past year, it had extended meager offers to the farmers.


This prompted pledges from authorities in Ho Chi Minh City and Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province to help the affected farmers.


Vicitms of the pollution in the hardest hit province of Dong Nai, however, were largely left in the dust.


The Dong Nai Farmers Association had, at one stage, declined to back affected farmers in filing a lawsuit against the company.


Representatives from the association claimed it would be too difficult to prove the extent of the damage caused by the company in court.


Farmers willing to go ahead with the lawsuit were backed by lawyers from HCMC who expressed confidence in a victory. Later, Dong Nai authorities ordered local lawyers to join the cause.


Following a widescale public outcry and consumer boycotting, early this month Vedan agreed to pay farmers in Ba Ria Vung Tau and HCMC VND53.6 billion (S$2.8 million), and VND45.7 billion (US$2.39 million), respectively.


It also offered to pay Dong Nai's farmers $ 6.1 million, but the provincial authorities since then were yet to come to conclusion on the offer.


The sums were authorized by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. 


So far farmers in Ba Ria Vung Tau and HCMC have received 50 percent of the promised compensation.The other half of the compensation is expected to be paid out by January 14, 2011.

Until then, the affected farmers in both of these localities have agreed to postpone their lawsuits against Vedan.

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