Peace protesters arrested after air base demo

Cambridge Evening News, 4 February 2003, page 2

SIX peace protesters, four of them from Cambridge, were arrested during a demonstration outside the Lakenheath USAF base yesterday.

They were among around 60 people, according to police crowd estimates, who gathered outside the base in protest against "weapons of mass destruction" which they allege are stored there.

Campaigners claim that nuclear weapons are stored at the base from which fly F-15E Strike Eagle jets which can drop laser-guided bombs.

Base and Defence Ministry officials have always refused to comment on the claims.

The base, USAF's largest in Britain, could play a major role in any conflict with Iraq. Its planes carried out bombing raids during the Gulf war and they have been flying patrols over Iraq since then.

The arrests were made by some of the 100 Suffolk police officers outside the base.

Supt Stewart Gull, the police operations manager, said the arrests were made for obstruction of the highway.

"In the main, the protest passed peacefully and without incident," he said.

A 19-year-old woman and three men, aged 21, 22 and 25, all from Cambridge, were among the six people taken to Mildenhall police station after their arrests. A 19-year-old man from Hertfordshire and a 19-year-old woman from Northamptonshire were also arrested.

The main entrance to the base was closed while the protest took place.

* SPECULATION about a conflict with Iraq was heightened when an aircraft, which could play a leading role, was seen practicing landings at the Mildenhall USAF base yesterday.

The NATO Airborne Warning and Control System plane (AWACS) is used to help direct attacks and detect enemy aircraft and missiles.

An international plane spotter said seeing the plane in the skies above Mildenhall was not unusual.

Paul Coppin, from Worlington Road, Mildenhall, said: "There has been a bit of an increase in the amount of flights from the bases in the past few months.

"I would say they are training at a higher level but this AWACS doing circuits is not unusual."

A spokeswoman from RAF Mildenhall confirmed the AWACS was on a routine training flight.

She said: "It was nothing out of the ordinary but with all the stuff that's going on people who don't know will wonder what it's doing here."