British backing for Turkish dam 'may violate Human Rights Act'

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The Independent Online

Britain is failing to apply its own rules for funding a Turkish dam that will displace 78,000 people and destroy one of the world's oldest towns, a report published yesterday claims.

The report, written by groups including Friends of the Earth and the London-based Kurdish Human Rights Project, says the government's own figures show the Ilisu dam in south-east Turkey is not viable.The groups suggest that funding the dam could breach the Human Rights Act and say they are considering legal action.

The Ilisu project has already provoked controversy in Britain, but the Government is in the final stage of considering whether to grant export credits to the British company Balfour Beatty to construct the dam.

There has been widespread opposition to the dam from the thousands of people, mainly Kurds, who will be displaced, and urgent pleas to rescue the ancient town of Hasankeyf. The town is carved from rock on the banks of the Tigris. Its inhabitants live in cave houses carved out of the cliff-face, and shepherds water their flocks in the waters of the Tigris.

The town is just one of the archaeological remains that will be destroyed by a series of dams, including Ilisu. Hundreds of thousands of people will be displaced.

The British Government said it would only grant Balfour Beatty export credits if certain conditions were met, incuding an adequate resettlement plan, preserving "as much as possible" of Hasankeyf, and assurances that the flow of water will be maintained to Syria and Iraq, which fear Turkey will use the dams to cut their supply.

Friends of the Earth says independent analysis of the Government's figures shows that the flow of water to Iraq and Syria will be cut off in times of drought. As for the thousands who will lose their homes, the Government's environmental impact assessment report says: "Past resettlement projects in Turkey have shown that the timely implementation of resettlement plans, especially of housing projects, represents a major challenge."

When the Birecik area was flooded last year, inhabitants of one village woke up to find water lapping round their feet and had to abandon their possessions and flee. No one told them the water was coming. New houses provided by the government were not finished in time. The Kurdish Human Rights Project said there was no evidence that resettlement of those displaced by the Ilisu dam would be any better.

The British Government's report quotes figures from the Turkish government which show that of those resettled in earlier programmes, 67 per cent were dissatisfied, while 83 per cent of those who chose compensation wanted to go back to their old homes. The government report says some 88 villages affected by Ilisu have been emptied.

But a separate report by lawyers in Turkey says those villages were forcibly cleared and burnt down by Turkish security forces during the conflict with Kurdish rebels. None of those affected will receive compensation for the loss of land they still own.

As for Hasankeyf, only 20 per cent of what is "culturally valuable" could possibly be saved, according to Professor Olus Arik of Ankara University.