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Saturday, 9 March, 2002, 11:56 GMT
MEP attacks Spanish war site plans
Crowded beach in Valencia on Spain's Mediterranean coast
The idea is to take water to Spain's parched coasts
A Welsh MEP is campaigning in Spain to prevent the Spanish government building a water-pumping plant over a battlefield in the country's civil war.

Plaid Cymru's Jill Evans is to visit the Ebro River delta on Saturday which she claims was a turning point in the conflict when foreign soldiers - including many from Wales - lost their lives there fighting against fascism.

Ms Evans is against the proposals on historical, social and environmental grounds.

But critics argue the proposed development will not damage any important Welsh battle sites as they are up in the mountains.

The scene of the so-called Battle of the Ebro saw members of the XV International Brigade from Wales fall amongst its 70,000 casualties.

It is once again the scene of a battle, this time between environmentalists and a government which wants to boost the water supply to tourist areas.

Over 1m Spaniards have already taken to the streets to voice their opposition to the national water plan which would involve pumping one billion litres of water a year from the northern Ebro River to dry areas on the tourism-dominated Mediterranean coast.

The amount is roughly equivalent to 70 litres per person, per day, every year.

The Welsh MEP's visit comes a day before another large demonstration is held in Barcelona on Sunday.

Spanish dictator, Franco
The Welsh volunteers died fighting Franco

She said: ""The battle of the Ebro was a turning point in the Spanish Civil War.

"It is a site where volunteers from Wales gave their lives in the struggle against fascism.

"The delta is an important historical site and should be respected as such.

"The National Hydrological Plan will also have a big social impact and an adverse effect on communities throughout a vast area of Spain, but its biggest threat is to the environment.

"If implemented the plan will require a total of 863 different projects ranging from building new dams and reservoirs, to improving roads, preventing losses from the irrigation infrastructure and renewing existing dams, reservoirs and canals.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar plan aims to tackle Spain's water needs

"The proposals also breach a number of EU laws such as the EU Water Framework Directive, the Directives on Birds and Habitats, Environmental Impact Assessment and Access to Environmental Information.

"During its Presidency of the EU, the Spanish government should be setting a good example and not flaunting the rules.

"What's worse is that the Spanish government intends to use European taxpayers' money to fund a third of the 23m euro scheme."

But Professor Robert Stradling, an expert on the Spanish Civil War and Welsh volunteers' involvement, disagrees that the dam plan is a danger to Welsh veteran's war grave site.

He his currently writing a book on the subject and questions if there is any reason for a Welsh MEP to campaign in Spain against a project when it has no direct link to Wales.

He said: "I can't see why we in Wales should have any historical objections to it.

"As far as I can tell, no international brigaders whatsoever died in the Ebro delta or even fought there.

"The five or at most six Welshman who died as part of the Ebro campaign died on the hills, far from the delta and any possible interference by these dams."

The British branch of the International Brigade was established in December 1936.

By the end of the Civil War 177 Welshmen had fought over the Spanish Republic and 33 had been killed.

See also:

18 May 01 | Media reports
Anti-Franco veterans win recognition
20 Mar 01 | Europe
Green warning for Med tourism
22 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
World warned on water refugees
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