[R-G] Human Shields: True Profiles in Courage
pieinsky at igc.org
Mon Feb 24 08:58:45 MST 2003
We don't want to die, but we know we are risking our lives, say human
By Kim Sengupta in Amman
The Independent (UK)
24 February 2003
A new batch of Western "human shields" will cross into Iraq today, as
activists already inside the country position themselves at Iraqi sites to
try to avert military strikes.
Fifteen from the first 200 volunteers began moving into a bunker at an
electricity plant in southern Baghdad yesterday, although some questioned
the choice of location after discovering that it was next to an army base.
Speaking from behind a wall of sandbags at the Rasheed military base, an
Iraqi official said: "Don't worry, it is a small army camp.''
Before their departure, the latest group declared that they were reconciled
to die in their protests against the looming war. The group of 25, including
Britons, will join international volunteers who they claim already number
In the next 48 hours this contingent will begin to take up their positions
in strategic locations where they might become targets of British and
Judith Empson, 52, from Shropshire, was confident that the Iraqi regime
would not try to place them in undue danger. "I have very, very deep belief
in the decency of the Iraqis. I don't think they are the kind of people who
will exploit us by deliberately putting us somewhere where we can be
Ms Empson, a researcher in economic and social affairs, continued: "I have
been to Iraq before, three years ago, to see for myself what was going on
there. Regime change should be left for the people of Iraq to decide without
outside interference.Obviously none of us want to die, but having taken this
step we must be prepared to face that possibility.''
Nathan Chapman, 20, from Norfolk, said he had discussed the dangers with his
family before embarking on the journey. ''We get a great deal of cynicism
from the media. But I think ordinary people understand and sympathise with
what we are doing. If this means dying, then so be it.''
The group of volunteers already in Iraq is an international mix, with many
from Britain and America. They insist that opinion polls show they are the
ones who are in tune with the public in their countries and not President
George Bush or Tony Blair.
The Australian government was also ignoring growing protest at home,
according to Ruth Russell. "I am Australian and I can tell you that there is
deep resentment back home about what is happening,'' she said yesterday. "I
am a mother and certainly I am worried about dying.''
The human shields will initially stay at hotels provided for them by the
Iraqi government, before deploying to various locations. One of the shields,
Godfrey Meynell, an Old Etonian, appealed to the RAF not to bomb targets
where he and other volunteers might be killed accidentally.
Mr Meynell, 68, a former diplomat with the Foreign Office, has agreed to
move to the electricity plant. He said: "I do think if we have a large
number of people at the site it will be very difficult for them to bomb. I
am an old man and they [the RAF] know I am here. If they bomb this site,
they will be deliberately targeting me as well.''
Another veteran Foreign Office civil servant among the human shields is Sue
Darling, who said that the looming conflict "is not a computer game. War
kills people, and this is something that needs to be said again and again."
The Iraqi government department looking after the human shields is headed by
Dr Abdel al-Hashemi, a former ambassador to several Western European
capitals. Yesterday in Amman, the volunteers were asked if they had qualms
about dealing with people such as Mr Hashemi, who has been accused of
playing a part in procuring weapons for the regime.
Ms Empson said: "We cannot choose who the Iraqis appoint for this role, all
we can do is speak for ourselves. We are here for the people of Iraq and not
Most volunteers said they wanted to protect the vulnerable and the young,
and would like to be located at schools, orphanages and hospitals.
Some, though, will be based at water and electricity plants, which are
likely bombing targets for the allies.
* Ten people were arrested yesterday after breaking into the US air base at
RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire during an anti-war demonstration, Andrew
Dave Cockroft, one of the protest organisers, said that about 450 people had
gathered outside the gates before they were pulled open and fences torn down
in a "spontaneous" action.
A police spokesman said nine men and a woman had been arrested for offences
of theft, criminal damage and aggravated trespass. He added that most of the
protesters were peaceful and the demonstrators did not move far inside the
base before being stopped.
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