Danube braced for cyanide threatSunday, 13 February, 2000
Serbia has said it will seek compensation for the cyanide spill that is threatening to contaminate the river Danube.
The spillage - from a Romanian gold mine - has caused enormous destruction to wildlife in the Hungarian reaches of the Tisza river.
Environmentalists estimate that some 80% of the fish in the Tisza have died in what they say could be the biggest ecological catastrophe in Europe since the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.
"This is a total catastrophe," said Serbia's Environment Minister Branislav Blazic. "It is astonishing that somebody let something like this happen."
He estimated that it would take at least five years for life to recover in the river.
"We will demand an estimation of the damage and we will demand that the culprits for this tragedy be punished," Mr Blazic said. "Had we from Yugoslavia done something like this, we probably would have been bombed."
About 100,000 cubic metres (3.5m cubic feet) of the lethal chemical have been travelling down the river Tisza, a tributary of the Danube, first through Hungary and then northern Yugoslavia.
On Saturday, hundreds of Hungarians mourned the "dead Tisza", throwing flowers in the water, lighting candles and carrying black flags.
The cyanide spill adds to the ecological strain on Yugoslavia following pollution caused by last year's Nato strikes on oil refineries and factories.
The authorities in Hungary and Yugoslavia are reported to have detected a drop in the cyanide concentration, as the chemical becomes further diluted, but levels are still highly dangerous.
The people of Hungary are just beginning to take stock of the damage caused to their stretch of the river Tisza from which tons of poisoned fish have already been removed.
The latest problem confronting the authorities is how to dispose of the dead fish without causing more environmental harm.
Birds and riverside animals, which normally feed off the fish, have also been affected.
But no cases of human poisoning have been recorded after emergency measures were brought in to provide alternative water supplies to people living close to the river.
The row over responsibility for the accident and over possible compensation is still continuing.
The Australian company, Esmerelda Exploration Limited, which owns a majority share in the gold mine, near Baia Mare, in Northern Romania, has challenged the claims of the Romanian authorities that they had been frequently warned in the past about the danger.
Hungary has demanded compensation for the spill, which the Romanian Government has said the mine's owners would have to pay.
A joint commission of Hungarian and Romanian experts will assess the damage.