"Mercy has not worked, time for justice'

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 A fisherman in Ho Chi Minh City's Can Gio District prepares his net on the Thi Vai River. The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources has urged agencies to ensure victory in a lawsuit against river polluter Vedan

The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources has asked all concerned agencies to try to ensure victory in the lawsuit against Taiwanese river polluter Vedan.

"We have to be determined that as long as we sue, we win and win the way the farmers have hoped for," Pham Khoi Nguyen said during a July 28 meeting with representatives from Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai and Ba Ria-Vung Tau provinces.

The three localities were the worst affected by the MSG maker's deliberate discharge of untreated wastewater into the Thi Vai River.

From 1994 until 2008, when their violation was discovered, the company's Dong Nai plant dumped 105 million liters of untreated wastewater a month into the river through a secret, underground pipe system.

Minister Nguyen described Vedan Vietnam's compensatory offers as "too low and not satisfactory." As a result, he said, the farmers and provincial agencies have "unanimously" agreed to sue the company.

Minister Nguyen went on to say that Vedan has not been serious in compensating the farmers. Vedan has not been cooperative, he said, and has deliberately delayed and prolonged the case without good reason.

The now-polluted Thi Vai River has been examined by the nation's environmental experts. Based on their test results, farmers in Dong Nai, Ba RiaVung Tau and HCMC have demanded payment of VND119.6 billion (US$6.26 million), VND53.6 billion ($2.8 million) and VND45.74 billion ($2.4 million) respectively.

Vedan initially offered VND7 billion to Dong Nai, then raised it to VND15 billion and later to VND30 billion. The offer to Ba RiaVung Tau started as low as VND6 billion, and was later raised to VND10 billion, while HCMC was offered VND7 billion at first, and VND12 and VND16 billion later.

Athough Yang Kun Hsiang, general director of Vedan, on July 28 sent notes raising the Dong Nai's offer to VND60 billion, Ba Ria-Vung Tau's to VND40 billion and HCMC's to VND30 billion, local authorities and residents still want to take the company to court.

The minister says the provinces have asked for less than what they've lost, and Vedan should totally satisfy their demands.

"We've been showing mercy to Vedan. Vedan made the violation, but we've been dealing with it in a way not to kick Vedan out of Vietnam. We wanted Vedan to fix the mistake and stay for further production. However, at this point in time, I have to say that we have shown enough mercy. The mercy hasn't worked, it's time to turn to justice."

"As long as the farmers do not receive satisfactory compensation from Vedan, our job is not done, and we won't eat and sleep well."

Nguyen said the ministry will present the evidence to the court and the Vietnam Environment Protection Fund will pay all the court fees.

Pham Van Dung, spokesman of the Dong Nai People's Committee, told Thanh Nien on Wednesday that the province aims to protect the farmers' interests.

Lawyers from the province's Bar Association will next week advise farmers on the lawsuit against the company, he said.

Nguyen Van Phung, chairman of HCMC Farmers' Association, also said that if Vedan wants to negotiate further, "just come to the court and do it."

Nguyen Van Hau, the lawyer representing HCMC's affected farmers, said they would file a lawsuit next week as he has not collected enough petitions from the farmers.

On July 27, more than 260 petitions from farmers in Ba RiaVung Tau were sent to a district People's Court.

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