MPs tell Byers to scrap support for Turkish dam

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The government should scrap controversial plans to support a massive Turkish dam project that will leave 16,000 Kurds homeless, MPs said in a highly critical report yesterday.

The government should scrap controversial plans to support a massive Turkish dam project that will leave 16,000 Kurds homeless, MPs said in a highly critical report yesterday.

The dam could spark war in the Middle East by cutting water supplies to Syria and Iraq, the Select Committee on International Development said. "Almost every internationally agreed test" on social and environmental impact was contravened by the project.

Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, has said he is "minded" to give support from the Export Credit Guarantee Department to a contract worth about £200m being negotiated by a British firm, Balfour Beatty, on the £1.25bn dam. The committee said bluntly that he should reverse his decision.

It was "astonished" the Foreign Office had not raised human rights concerns, it said, going on to suggest that the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, was at risk of becoming the "rent-a-conscience" of other Whitehall departments that chose to ignore suchissues.

The committee accused the Government of a "shotgun wedding approach to export credit" and said Turkey had ignored international guidelines on planning for resettlement ever since the scheme was conceived 18 years ago. Something had "gone very wrong" when governments and export credit agencies were "bending over backwards" tosecure deals on such a project.

"The Turkish authorities had not complied with international standards - why was the project not simply rejected for cover?" the committee asked.

The committee's Conservative chairman, Bowen Wells, said the scheme could lead to conflict both inside Turkey and internationally. "This is going to inundate one of the most sacred and most beautiful places ofworship in Kurdish Turkey and exacerbate already bad relationships between the Turkish government and Kurdish people," he said.

Patricia Hewitt, a Trade and Industry minister, said Britain's involvement was having a positive effect. Resettlement plans and an environmental impact report were being drawn up.

"If we can get our conditions met, if we can get building standards agreed, if we can get the human rights conditions met and a resettlement programme sorted out, then we will consider favourably an application for export credit cover," she said.

The international development committee has been prevented from making an official visit to the site. Martin O'Neill, the chairman of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, had complained that the other committee planned to duplicate work his own group was doing on the dam.

A report published by Mr O'Neill's committee in March merely expressed "concern" that ministers should take human rights seriously when considering whether to underwrite the project.

Last night one member of the international development committee, Ann Clwyd, set out for a private visit to the area backed by Friends of the Earth. She described the dam as fundamentally flawed. "The Ilisu dam is bad for human rights, bad for the environment, bad for regional peace and bad for Britain and British taxpayers," she said.

The Turkish government plans to build the dam on the Tigris river in the south-east of the country. Work is due to begin at the end of the year and the Turks say it will generate power for industrial and commercial development.

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