EU freezes pounds 5m Tibet aid after aid worker is excluded

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The Independent Online
The European Union has frozen a pounds 5m development project in Tibet after the authorities in effect expelled a British aid worker from Lhasa by refusing to renew her work permit.

Sir Leon Brittan, vice-president of the European Commission, will postpone signing the final agreement for the 7.6m Ecu Panam project while officials try to establish why a Save the Children Fund (SCF) education expert has been forced to leave Tibet.

"We've stopped the administrative procedures in their tracks until we have clarified what happened," said a member of Sir Leon's office yesterday. The agreement had been due for signing before Christmas.

The 30-year-old British aid worker, who SCF requested not be named, had been based in Tibet for three years, improving village education in poor rural areas. Since she left for a holiday in July, she has been allowed back for only one week, with no explanation from the authorities over why they will not renew her work permit. "If SCF can't operate in Tibet, if non-governmental organisations cannot operate in Tibet, then the whole raison d'etre of the Panam project is in question. There is no doubt about that," said the official.

Sir Leon and his office were unaware of SCF's visa problem until it was reported in The Independent this week, even though the British charity last month informed the EU of the block. Efforts are now being made by the EU to find out what has happened.

The British charity runs education and environmental health programmes in Tibet, where it has worked since 1991. The de facto expulsion of its only expatriate aid worker in Tibet threatens the EU project because SCF was the most obvious NGO to be involved in Panam, an ambitious integrated irrigation, health and education plan for a region 200km south west of Lhasa.