LEBANON: Debate Rages Over Toxic Waste Court Case

Dounia Hagen

BEIRUT, Mar 18 1995 (IPS) - A debate is raging in and out of the Lebanese courts over the importing of 15,000 barrels of toxic waste chemicals during the civil war years which it is alleged has poisoned people, animals and the environment.

As well as a prominent court case the Lebanese parliament has been urged to debate the subject and find a solution to a problem which is worrying thousands of Lebanese.

In February the Lebanese High Court of Justice confirmed that 15,000 barrels of chemical agents had been brought into the Lebanon during 1987 and 1988.

A in-depth report by Lebanese army intelligence explained how the barrels of hazardous waste were brought into Lebanon and buried in the Kesruan region, the Christian heartland, north of Beirut while thousands were also dumped haphazardly in the sea off the Lebanese coast.

A Lebanese parliamentary report already names 27 suspects as being responsible for the importation. Most of them were members of the now-defunct Christian Lebanese Forces (LF). Businessmen Roger Haddad and Antoine Aam are accused of importing the largest consignment of toxic waste.

In 1987 when the toxic waste barrels were imported militia rule was prevailing virtually everywhere on the Lebanese territory. The area of the Beirut harbour where the waste was unloaded was under Christian LF control.

Recently some 1,300 goats died after they had been drinking in the streams running across the valleys of the Kesruan province where many barrels are stored.

The current centre of inquiry in the court case concerns the death of one man who is said to have perished as a direct result working with the toxic waste.

The main controversy, however, centres on the views of Pierre Malchief a noted environmental expert and winner of the United Nations Global 500 award for environmental achievement.

The case took a dramatic twist last week when the judge Said Mirza ordered that Malchief be arrested for allegedly encouraging the dead man’s wife Josee Maalouf to give false evidence as well as giving contradictory statements himself.

The judge said Malichef incited Maalouf to distort the truth and testify that the death of her husband was caused solely by toxic chemicals — although medical reports contradict her statement.

Josee Maalouf said her husband Adib died because of the effects of the toxic agents he was working on in barrels stored in Beirut’s harbour.

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