Veteran campaigner to launch RAF Waddington protest
A FOUNDER of the Greenham Common protests is heading for RAF Waddington to demonstrate against its expanding role in the use of unmanned military aircraft.
Retired midwife Helen John, 73, a veteran of the 19-year campaign against cruise missiles which began in 1981, launches the Lincolnshire demonstration tomorrow.
She and others are protesting over Waddington's involvement in the Reaper drones, which are deployed in Afghanistan.
The aircraft, which are used for surveillance and are armed with 500lb laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles, are remotely controlled by pilots on the ground.
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According to the website directactionstation.com, the Waddington peace protest is "a highly visible campaign against the UK's use of armed drones against unarmed civilians, often women and children".
Ms John, jailed ten years ago for cutting a hole in the fence of the Menwith Hill air base in North Yorkshire as she protested against a proposed American missile defence system, accuses the military of training assassins.
"I spent my entire working life trying to keep people alive," said Ms John, of Otley in West Yorkshire, who stood against Tony Blair on a No Star Wars ticket in the 2001 general election in the Sedgefield constituency.
"It's absolutely unforgivable that young men are being trained to operate these drones remotely in criminal assassinations – it is an insult to humanity.
"This is all happening for oil. The USA and Britain decide they want oil but are not prepared to pay for it.
"I know we will probably take a lot of flack for protesting. Local people have great respect for the RAF.
"I have respect for people who put their lives on the line, but this is not what is happening."
In May this year the Echo reported that a new Reaper squadron will be formed at RAF Waddington, taking over the squadron number of the disbanded No 13 Tornado Squadron.
Crews from 39 Squadron, which has its headquarters at RAF Waddington, have been piloting the unmanned aerial vehicles for several years from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.
But 13 Squadron's new role next year will be the first time covert missions over Afghanistan will be controlled from the UK.
Ministry of Defence spokesman Squadron Leader Bruno Wood pointed out that Reaper was not an automated system.
He said: "They do have the capability to deploy weapons but only when commanded to do so by the flight crew.
"The rules of engagement are exactly the same as for manned conflict aircraft.
"We operate Reaper in strict accordance with international humanitarian law, also known as the law of armed conflict.
"Reaper is saving lives in Afghanistan."