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Ivorian Victims say Toxic Waste Settlement Not Enough

In Ivory Coast, lawyers for the victims of last August's toxic waste dumping incident say the millions of dollars a Dutch company offered the government Tuesday is not enough, and they will move forward with their lawsuit against the company, Trafigura. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Victims say the nearly $200 million the Dutch-based oil trader offered as a settlement is not adequate.

Trafigura sent poisonous sludge to Abidjan last August that was then dumped into more than 15 open-air sites and killed at least 10 people. Thousands more became ill after exposure to fumes from the waste.

Rachelle Gogoua lives less than 500 meters from one of the contaminated landfills.

She says the victims do not think the money is enough and the government should have asked for more. Gogoua adds the money will have to last for generations because the extent of damages is still not known.

Martin Day, a lawyer with the London-based firm of Leigh, Day & Company, says Trafigura's offer is a good gesture, but does not change his plans to continue with a victims' lawsuit being brought against the company in London, where the Dutch company has an office.

"As far as our clients are concerned, it does not really change the picture," he said. "It is hoped from some suggestions that some of the money might end up going their [the victims'] way. It would basically be an interim payment on their ultimate claims. "

More than 1,000 have joined the lawsuit, and Day hopes to sign up thousands more before July. At that point, he says Trafigura can either negotiate a settlement or go to court.

Day says his firm has also been approached by the Ivorian Chamber of Commerce, which he will represent in a second case against Trafigura.

"It is clear a number of businesses have been very badly affected," he said. "There are maybe 100 to 200 businesses [that] have lost quite a serious amount of money as a result of what has gone on."

In a written statement, Trafigura says it offered its settlement as a concerned global citizen, not as a party guilty of hazardous waste dumping.

Trafigura has maintained its innocence in the dumping, saying it legally handed the waste to a local disposal company, and received clearance to leave the port.

A Trafigura spokesman Roald Goethe, said the toxic poisoning was "an accident." The text of the settlement says the deal puts an end to different litigation efforts.

Trafigura says its settlement money will help fund an environmental investigation, construct a new hospital and disposal plant. The money will be used largely to reimburse funds the state has used to remove the waste and decontaminating the sites.

United Nations Environment Program estimates the government has already spent $15 million in clean up.

Also as part of the settlement, the Ivorian government is considering releasing Trafigura company representatives held since September of last year as part of a government investigation.