In November 1998, nearly 3,000 tons of Taiwanese toxic waste were dumped in a field in the southern port of Sihanoukville. At the time, there was no law banning such dumping, but Minister of Environment Mok Mareth said publicly and repeatedly that toxic waste imports were prohibited in Cambodia and a national policy to that effect was in force.
Dumped in an open field, the waste was scavenged by poor villagers, many of whom later complained of sickness; one quickly died. The Cambodian leadership, expressing outrage, promised a thorough investigation. Local people panicked: thousands fled the city. Others in Sihanoukville exercised their constitutional rights and in December held two days of public demonstrations, blaming government corruption for the presence of the toxic material. Even some local officials told Human Rights Watch they believed that demonstrations were warranted, provided they were lawful and peaceful.
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