Clean up or pay up - that was the stark message of Environment Minister Libor Ambrozek to the German state of Saxony-Anhalt on Monday, the latest round in a dispute over German rubbish dumped illegally in the Czech Republic. The comments came amid reports that the illegal dump - in disused farm buildings in the North Bohemian village of Libceves - was again on fire.

There have been several cases of German waste being imported illegally to the Czech Republic over last few months. The media has, however, seized upon the waste dump at Libceves, because someone keeps setting fire to it. Firemen were called out for third time on Monday to extinguish the burning rubbish dump, which consists of waste imported illegally from Germany.

On Monday Mr Ambrozek called on the authorities in Saxony-Anhalt to remove the waste by the end of April. If they don't, he said, the Czech authorities will dispose of the rubbish and send the bill to the government of Saxony-Anhalt.

Mr Ambrozek says the German authorities are dragging their feet over the matter, and following a bilateral agreement they should have removed it already. However it was apparently a Czech firm which brought the waste to the Czech Republic from Germany, which begs the question - why should the Germans have to clean it up? For an answer to that question we turned to Mr Ambrozek's spokeswoman Karolina Sulova: "The answer's simple. The German side has violated the terms of a regulation issued by the Council of the European Economic Community monitoring the disposal of waste. The fault lies with the German exporter of the waste who failed to ascertain whether the waste was being sent to a facility which was equipped to deal with it. So they exported the waste - or in this case passed the waste on to another firm - and this firm dumped it in an old cowshed. What's more this firm had no authority to dispose of waste products."

Mr Ambrozek usually comes across as a rather mild-mannered minister, not prone to issuing threats to neighbouring governments. But he is under pressure from Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, who has criticised him over the affair. Also, it's less than seven weeks until the elections, and the "German rubbish scandal" is an issue which has got many Czechs hot under the collar.


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