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[casi] 'Human shields' catch bus back

'Human shields' catch bus back

Activists said they were assigned to likely military targets

LONDON, England (CNN) --Most of the British human shields who traveled to
Baghdad in red double-decker buses are returning home before a gunshot has
been fired because of "safety fears," organisers say.

Many of those returning are concerned for their safety after the Iraqi
authorities began dictating which sites they could "protect," said
Christiaan Briggs, a co-ordinator for the action group in Baghdad.

Briggs told the UK's news agency Press Association: "Now we are being told
we cannot go to certain sites, such as hospitals, so we are reassessing our
"I must stress the people on the bus were always intending on going back.
The aim was always a mass migration and if we had had five to ten thousand
people here there would never be a war.

"We do not have those numbers and a lot of people were always intending to
go back before the bombing campaign started."

The two buses, which left Baghdad Saturday, are thought to be heading
towards Syria.

Abdul al-Hashimi, head of Saddam Hussein's Peace and Solidarity
Organization, ordered the volunteers to disperse to nine sites in Baghdad or
leave, Britain's broadsheet newspaper, Daily Telegraph reported. Most of the
activists thought they would be "shielding" schools or hospitals, but
instead found themselves assigned to power stations, oil refineries and
water purification plants.

"We had been told we would go to humanitarian sites, specifically
hospitals," Ken O'Keefe, the former U.S. marine who led the activists, told
the newspaper. "But we've now been told that we can't go to those places.
The human shields strategy will not work under these circumstances. The
level of trust is not present now."
Nine of the 11 British human shields in the bus convoy had left Baghdad, the
Telegraph said. Among them was 68-year-old Godfrey Meynell, a former High
Sheriff of Derbyshire, who was assigned to protect Baghdad South power
station but admitted that he was leaving out of "cold fear."

A 22-year-old student from Pennsylvania assigned to an oil refinery told the
paper: "The people staying there sleep 50 yards from stacks billowing black
"And it's sinister: twenty minders are there for eight shields. There are
three security gates, including one manned by plain-clothed guards carrying

U.S. officials have said that it is a "war crime" to use civilians as human
shields and that there is no way of guaranteeing their safety.

Briggs estimated around a dozen remained in Baghdad and said he and others
may now act as witnesses rather than human shields.
"I said right from the start, I was prepared to die but when I knew I had a
chance of affecting change," he said.

Grueling journey

The original bus protesters were the first British human shields to arrive
in Baghdad, on February 16, after a grueling 3,000 mile journey from London.
They encountered many problems on their way, including O'Keefe who at one
point was forced to stay behind in Rome to fix a broken-down bus before
having to fly on later to Damascus.

Other setbacks included punctures, running out of petrol, route
alterations -- and according to British media reports -- squabbles between
different activist factions.
On Friday, the head of Sweden's largest peace organization urged human
shields to leave Iraq, saying they were being used for propaganda purposes
by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Maria Ermanno, chairwoman of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society,
cited reports that Iraqi officials were arranging transportation,
accommodation and news conferences for the human shields.

"To go down to Iraq and live and act there on the regime's expense, then
you're supporting a terrible dictator. I think that method is entirely
wrong," Ermanno told Swedish Radio.

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