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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 14:38 GMT
Volunteer 'human shields' flock to Iraq
The volunteers are receiving a warm welcome
Convoys of foreign peace activists are arriving in Iraq to act as "human shields", hoping to deter a US-led bombardment of the country.

We're talking about making it politically impossible for them to bomb

Human Shields spokesman

About 75 multinational activists, led by former US marine and Gulf War veteran Ken Nichols O'Keefe, arrived in Baghdad on Sunday after a marathon land and sea journey from London.

Dozens more are on their way, planning to spread themselves in strategic positions across the country.

"We're talking about making it politically impossible for them to bomb," Torben Franck, a spokesman for the group, told BBC News Online.

The US has already declared that the deployment of human shields is a crime, warning there is no guarantee that they will not be bombed.

Mothers and businessmen

Those activists who arrived on Sunday were delayed when their convoy's lead vehicle - a double-decker bus - broke down in Italy earlier this month.

The "human shields" are aware of the risks
Members of the group - which goes under the unwieldy name of Truth Justice Peace Human Shields Action Iraq - spent Monday viewing civilian sites bombed during the 1991 Gulf War.

They will soon be joined by more than 100 volunteers, some of whom are due to fly from London's Heathrow airport to the Jordanian capital Amman on Monday, before making their way to Baghdad.

Those on board have paid their own fares and are said to include students, a mother of three and a businessman who has given up his job.

They signed up to the cause despite the clear risks.

The Human Shields website warns those considering taking part in this action: "There are significant risks for all of us taking part... But if you're like many of us, you recognise a greater danger lies in our acquiescence in the face of injustice."

A further flight of volunteers is scheduled to leave London on Friday.

'Not supporting Saddam'

Mr Franck said the volunteers were being welcomed by the people of Iraq, but added that they had had their mobile and satellite phones confiscated by the Iraqi authorities.

He said the aim was to have up to 20,000 Western "human shields" in place.

He also denied that the presence of these activists was a propaganda coup for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime.

"The people there are not there to support Saddam," he said. "They are there to show support and solidarity with the people of Iraq - and share their fate."

Other peace organisations - including the US-based Iraq Peace Team, Italian-based Bridges to Baghdad and a Japanese pacifist group - are also sending volunteers to Iraq.

The term "human shields" became common currency ahead of the last Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein threatened to place Westerners detained in Iraq at sites deemed likely to be attacked by the US-led coalition.

He did not carry out this threat, and most of the detainees were released before hostilities began.

See also:

22 Jan 03 | England
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