> our title:

Demo As RAF Drone Ops Move to UK

> original title:

Demo As Afghan Drones Flown By RAF in UK

(Source: British Forces Broadcasting Service; published April 28, 2013)


Hundreds of peace campaigners gathered outside an RAF base today to protest against the "obscenity" of armed drones being used to conduct unmanned missions in Afghanistan. Around 400 demonstrators took part in a march from Lincoln to a rally at nearby RAF Waddington, which assumed control of British drone missions in Afghanistan earlier this week.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed on Thursday that oversight of armed intelligence and surveillance flights by drones deployed to Afghanistan had now moved to Waddington from a United States Air Force facility in Nevada.

Protesters taking part in today's rally cheered calls for the international community to emulate action taken against cluster munitions by outlawing armed drones. Chris Cole, a co-ordinator of the Drone Campaign Network, said the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to wage war raised numerous legal, ethical and moral issues.

Speaking near Waddington's perimeter fence, Mr Cole told the Press Association: "This is the new home of drone warfare in the UK and there are questions about the growing use of these armed, unmanned systems. "Because of their remote nature, there is no risk to any of our forces and that makes it easier to launch weapons and makes it much easier for politicians to get involved in warfare." Mr Cole said the number of demonstrators present at the rally showed the strength of public feeling against the use of drones, particularly to target areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The activist added: "In Pakistan there are reliable reports of a large number of civilian casualties and we don't know about British use of drones because there is no information about what's happening in Afghanistan."

Veteran peace campaigner Helen John, who has been living in a caravan adjacent to Waddington, also addressed the protestors. The retired nurse and midwife, aged 74, said she was disgusted that the UK was using Reaper drones controlled from British soil. She said: "If you are going about your normal business without interfering with anyone else you should not be able to be targeted by a drone. "It's quite horrifying how people are happy to accept this happening. "The opposition (to armed drones) is growing but it really has to speed up so that this type of weaponry is outlawed."

Many of the marchers carried banners "bearing slogans including "No More Drones" and "Murdered by Robots", while others held up placards with photographs and names of individual drone strike victims. Local resident Pat Pilling, aged 71, was among those who backed the protest, which was organised by CND, the Drone Campaign Network, the Stop the War Coalition, and War on Want. "My worry is that because they are controlling the drones from here, Waddington is now a target," she said. “We are just making ourselves a bigger target - they are controlled by kids in an air-conditioned room thousands of miles away with no concept of the devastation that they are causing."

In a speech to the protesters, Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German said: "There is nothing like getting close up to these bases to see how menacing they are. "It brings home that (the UK is) engaged in drone warfare - it is warfare which is operated remotely at absolutely no risk to anybody in this country but with terrible consequences for people in countries many, many thousands of miles away. "Nobody knows how many have died and nobody knows their names."

Chris Nineham, vice-chair of the Stop the War Coalition, voiced concern that drones were being used to continue the so-called "war on terror" with little or no public scrutiny. "They're using them to fight wars behind our backs," Mr Nineham said. CND's general secretary, Kate Hudson, was also fiercely critical of armed drones, saying in a statement: "It's time to end this remote killing before even more innocent civilians are slaughtered. They are the main victims in this barbaric form of high-tech killing."

The MoD says drones have played a vital role supporting military operations in Afghanistan and have "undoubtedly" helped to save the lives of military personnel and those of countless Afghan civilians. Defence officials have also stressed that Reaper drones are primarily operated in Afghanistan in a surveillance and reconnaissance role. An MoD spokesman said: "We fully respect people's right to protest peacefully and within the law. "UK Reaper aircraft are piloted by highly trained professional military pilots who adhere strictly to the same laws of armed conflict and are bound by the same clearly defined rules of engagement which apply to traditionally manned RAF aircraft. "In all military operations everything possible is done to avoid civilian casualties and this is no less the case with RPAS (Remotely Piloted Air System) operations."

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