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Vietnam Rejected US Assistance in Mass Fish Death Probe

FILE - Vietnamese protesters hold banners reading "Get out Formosa" and "I love the sea, shrimp and fish" during a rally denouncing recent mass fish deaths in Vietnam's central province, in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 1, 2016.

A top U.S. diplomat says Vietnamese officials rejected U.S. offers of technical assistance with an investigation into a mass fish death along the Southeast Asian country's central coast.

Addressing the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius said overtures of assistance, made in late April, were immediately declined.

"Pretty much right away, I offered technical assistance from the United States if the government of Vietnam wanted it for figuring out what had happened, and the reasons that so many fish had died along the central coast," he said. "That immediate offer of assistance was not accepted."

The massive die-off of marine life has sparked outrage and nationwide protests, most of which have been broken up by police. Demonstrators blame the catastrophe, which left an estimated 100 tons of dead fish along central coastline beaches in late April, on the release of toxic chemicals from a new Taiwanese-owned steel mill.

Although an official investigation has found no links between the fish deaths and the $10.6 billion coastal steel plant run by a unit of Taipei-headquartered Formosa Plastics, public anger against the company has not abated.

In May, nearly 140,000 Vietnamese nationals submitted a petition urging the Obama administration to launch an independent probe of the event.

Last week, the Vietnamese government said it had identified the cause of fish deaths, but needed more hard scientific evidence before making public allegations. Critics have repeatedly condemned the government's delayed response to the massive die-off.

In late April, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who took office earlier that month, ordered a thorough inspection of the fish deaths. On April 26, government officials said findings of the probe would be released within a week.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Vietnamese Service.