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Japanese Officials Investigate Poison Leak

Four officials from Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited the city of Qiqihar in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province at the weekend to investigate an accident in which at least 36 people were injured by chemical weapons left by Japanese troops during their invasion of China (1937-45).

The team, headed by Kawakami Fumihiro, a foreign ministry official in charge of China affairs, visited the sites where the chemical weapons were found and the location where they are presently stored. The officials brought flowers to the 34 victims who are staying at the People's Liberation Army Hospital No 203 in Qiqihar for medical treatment. Another two victims were not hospitalized because their injuries were not serious.

A Xinhua report said yesterday that Chinese victims and their families have demanded compensation.

Details about the demands are not available, but Chinese Foreign Ministry officials are reported to have been negotiating with the Japanese side in the past two days.

On Friday, the Chinese government urged Japan to seriously deal with the accident. Fu Ying, director of the Department of Asian Affairs of China's Foreign Ministry, lodged solemn representations with the Japanese Embassy in Beijing.

The chemical weapons, stored in five metal barrels, were discovered last Monday morning at a construction site. One of the barrels was carelessly broken by workers at the site, causing an oil-like substance to leak out and penetrate into the soil.

Unaware of the nature of the material, two workers later cut the barrels into pieces and sold them to a recycling facility in a residential community.

Things were made worse when the polluted soil from the building site was moved to other locations as part of construction work.

After technical analysis, experts later confirmed that the five barrels had been left by the Japanese army and contained mustard gas.

Of the 34 victims in Hospital No 203, two are close to death, with blood problems and difficult breathing, said Min Xinge, director of the hospital's Medical Affairs Office.

Another eight patients were last night in serious conditions. The other patients are under observation and it is possible that their condition could worsen, Min said.

A typical characteristic of poisoning caused by mustard gas is pruritus (severe itching) and burning, especially on a man's genitalia, the official said.

On August 4, Li Huizhen, a 31-year-old rural worker among these victims who comes from central China's Henan Province, had 30 percent of his skin affected by burning on August 5 but it had spread to 95 percent by yesterday, Min noted.

Dozens of experts on chemical weapons, burns treatment and relevant diseases from army hospitals, and China's defence and foreign ministries have been invited to Qiqihar to deal with the aftermath of the accident.

The city government organized a police contingent to prevent the pollution from spreading. Eleven sites polluted by the gas have been strictly controlled.

In another development, a bomb with nerve gas was found yesterday in Changsha, capital city of central China's Hunan Province. It belonged to the air force of the Japanese invaders and had been buried for nearly 60 years.

(China Daily August 11, 2003)

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