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Fight to save Spanish site where Welshmen perished in civil war.

Byline: Tom Bodden Welsh Affairs Correspondent

A WELSH MEP is backing the fight to stop the building of a massive water plant on the site of an historic Spanish Civil War battleground where Welsh volunteers were killed.

Anti-fascist volunteer fighters from Wales were among thousands who were killed in the Battle of Ebro River in 1939.

Now the Spanish government wants to construct a hydrological plant there despite huge opposition.

Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans is due to visit the Ebro River delta today where Welsh members of the XV International Brigade were among 70,000 casualties.

A million people have already taken to the streets to voice their opposition to the Spanish National Hydrological Plan. Her visit is a day before another large demonstration in Barcelona opposing the development on historical, social and environmental grounds.

Speaking from Barcelona, Ms Evans 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 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."

The proposals breached a number of EU laws concerning water quality, wildlife habitats and environment, she said.

"What is worse is that the Spanish Government intends to use European taxpayers' money to fund a third of the 23m euro scheme, " Ms Evans said.

"We all have a duty to oppose this plan which is economically untenable, ecologically destructive and has dubious social and environmental objectives. The Ebro delta has its own special place in Welsh history.

"The controversial National Hydrological Plan risks taking that away for ever."

The battle was the last major Republican offensive of the Spanish Civil War (193639) and the last battle for the International Brigades, made up of opponents of fascism from around the world.

The Battle of the Ebro was an attempt to reduce the pressure on Valencia, the capital of the Republic, by drawing Nationalist forces elsewhere, and ultimately proved to be the death knell of the Republic.

Their armies were unable to defend their territory effectively against the Nationalist onslaught. The International Brigades who had crossed the Ebro River lost 75pc of their members.

UP to 80 Welsh soldiers died out of the 200 who made the journey to fight the nationalist forces of General Franco between 1936 and 1939.

Most came from the politically active regions of South Wales to fight the fascist regime which had overthrown a democratically elected republican government. But some travelled from Wrexham, the Nantlle Valley and Anglesey.

Dr Wil Griffith in the Department of History and Welsh History at the University of Wales, Bangor, said one activist was Tom Jones, from Rhos, in Wrexham.

"He was a leader of the Transport and General Workers Union, " he said. "He was captured and originally sentenced to death for fighting against the fascist regime. He had his sentence commuted and was repatriated.

"Wales, in the inter-war years, was highly politicised, especially in the industrialised areas." said Dr Griffith.

Although Welsh volunteers were at the forefront of the anti-fascist forces, a handful fought on Franco's side.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 9, 2002
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