Hungary to sue firms over river pollution

BUDAPEST, Mar 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) Hungary said on Thursday it would sue one Australian and two Romanian mining firms over cyanide and metal spills that have devastated the Tisza River.

Six weeks ago a cyanide discharge from a Romanian gold mine virtually wiped out life in parts of Hungary's second river and spread downstream into the Danube. A second mining spill of heavy metal residues reached Hungary earlier this week.

Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said Hungary would file for compensation from Australian Esmeralda and its Romanian partner in the gold mine. It would also take action against a state-owned Romanian firm over the zinc and lead pollution.

"First the companies that caused the damage have to be held responsible," Martonyi told Reuters.

"Every polluter has to be sued."

He added Romania must also share the blame for pollution originating within its borders.

"It's clear there is a problem that inevitably brings up the question of the responsibility of the state," Martonyi said.

He called for an examination of Romania's environmental regulations and other potential hazards in the neighboring state, which was heavily industrialized in communist times.

"The first thing is that the (potential) sources of danger have to be eliminated," Martonyi said.

He said the European Union could help encourage Romania to shut down hazardous plants and play an important role in collecting evidence for future legal action.

Esmerelda Exploration Ltd was put into administration in Australia on Wednesday.

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