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By Selah Hennessy
Dakar
10 November 2007

At least seven people are said to be under arrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after radioactive mineral waste was poured into a river in the southeast of the country. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar that teams are currently working to rid the river of the waste.

Didace Pembe, Congo's environment minister, says the official who ordered the toxic waste to be dumped has been arrested.

According to local reporter Eddy Isango, seven people from the commission in charge of disposing the minerals are also under arrest.

On Wednesday, the government ordered an inquiry after officials in the southeast province of Katanga said tons of radioactive minerals had been dumped into Mura River, a source of drinking water for the nearby mining town Likasi. The town has a population of around 300,000.

Pembe says the waste has radiation levels 50 times more than the legal standard for safety.

He says the population is being informed through local radio and TV channels not to use the water for drinking, bathing, or for gardening.

He adds that clean up at the site has begun.

Congolese authorities had originally ordered the nearly twenty tons of copper ore containing uranium samples to be dumped in an abandoned uranium mine.

But Pembe says the majority of the toxic minerals were dumped in the river instead.  He says officials are tracing some waste that might have been dumped elsewhere.

Most of the copper ore belongs to the ** firm Magma-Lubumbashi.  The environment minister says the company did not request the waste to be dumped in the river.

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