|ISTANBUL - Turkey said Wednesday it could resume work to build a disputed dam on the Tigris River next week after European lenders release 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) for the project.
The loan for the Ilisu Dam ¬ extended by an international consortium including Austrian, German and Swiss lenders was frozen for six months in January on the grounds that Turkey had failed to meet several criteria addressing the projects environmental and social impacts.
Turkish Environment Minister Veysel Eroglu told a news conference on Wednesday the suspension, which expires this month, would be lifted and work could start next week, Reuters reported.
The Ilisu plant, with a planned power capacity of 1,200 megawatts to generate 3.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year, is part of a $32 billion plan to develop Turkey's economically underdeveloped Southeast and east.
Environmentalists and historians say almost all of the famous ruins that attract tourists to the ancient town of Hasankeyf would be buried under a dam for the plant on the Tigris River.
"We have successfully carried out some important work in order to realize the project in accordance with international standards," AFP also quoted Eroglu as telling the conference.
"The criticism is untrue. This is the work of foreign powers that do not want Turkey to become a regional power," he added.
Hasankeyf was used by the Romans as a fortress to ward off the Persians. The town was later destroyed by Mongols and rebuilt in the 11th century by Seljuk Turks.
According to plans, the ruins would be moved to a nearby area, yet the project would still swallow up more than 80 villages by the time of its planned completion in 2013.