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Saturday, June 26, 1999 Published at 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK


UK in court over dam 'secrecy'

A UK Government minister is to appear in the High Court over his decision not to release information on a controversial dam.

Trade Minister Brian Wilson faces the court next week to answer claims that he is breaching environmental information regulations by refusing to release details about the impact the Ilisu dam in Turkey will have.

Mr Wilson's department has been asked by British civil engineering company Balfour Beatty, one of the leading contractors for the project, to underwrite the scheme.

'Flawed' impact study

But critics of the project, which will take water from the River Tigris, cutting off part of the flow to Syria and Iraq, say it will flood the lands of local Kurds and damage water supplies.

Some experts have even suggested it could spark a war between Turkey and its two neighbours, Syria and Iraq, which both object strongly to the scheme.

Friends of the Earth allege that the environmental impact assessment - upon which the scheme is based - was not done properly and want to obtain access to it.

The group will argue in court that under 1992 environmental information regulations, Mr Wilson is obliged to publish details of the report.

Freedom of information

He has so far refused, saying the documents are not the government's to release.

However FoE have also warned that under Home Secretary Jack Straw's Freedom of Information Bill - which is supposed to give greater public access to official information - there would be no public entitlement at all to see such material.

"Mr Wilson seems to regard freedom of information as a question of news management rather than a fundamental right," said FoE policy and campaigns director Tony Juniper.

"If Jack Straw has his way even the modest powers that exist now, and which will be exercised in court next week, will be removed leaving us at the mercy of ministers who are more concerned to avoid personal embarrassment than engage in public debate leading to good decisions."

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