Travellers pledge peaceful protest

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The Independent Online

The mother of a six-month-old boy with Down's Syndrome has spoken of the human impact a planned mass eviction of travellers will have.

Margaret Culligan, a resident of Dale Farm, near Basildon, Essex, was speaking as travellers and supporters said they would continue to fight the planned clearance of the UK's largest travellers' site.

Speaking at a press conference at Dale Farm, the two groups presented a united front and said they were committed to non-violent resistance.

It follows reports that up to 2,000 protesters are set to descend on the site to exploit the situation and to clash with bailiffs and police. The travellers deny that booby traps have been set.

The groups say that hundreds of children and infirm elderly people face losing their homes and will be forced out of the community they have lived in for 10 years.

Mrs Culligan said: "My son has Down's Syndrome and breathing difficulties, and needs regular medical attention.

"He was born here and this is his home. If this eviction goes ahead it will place an enormous strain on us as a family and his health might deteriorate.

"There are elderly people who also rely on services in the area and who deserve a stable place to live. All we want is to stay in our homes."

Basildon Council is due to begin eviction proceedings over the coming weeks after a last-ditch High Court injunction bid by the travellers failed.

Planning for a multi-million pound policing operation - which Essex Police say will protect travellers and supporters as well as bailiffs - is under way.

The council yesterday issued a final plea for them to leave voluntarily.

It follows a decade-long row over unauthorised properties on the former scrap yard.

Although half of the site is legal, more than 80 properties have no planning permission and about 400 people are said to be living there illegally.

Both travellers and supporters have promised to resist eviction without violence.

Resident Kathleen McCarthy said: "We will resist the bailiffs and build barricades but none of us have weapons or anything like that.

"Anybody who is welcomed on this site will resist in a peaceful way."

One supporter, who gave her name only as Marina, said specialists in peaceful resistance were among the activists and were training travellers in how to resist bailiffs in a non-violent manner.

She said: "We would urge anybody who cares about human rights and peaceful resistance to join us.

"This eviction is a form of ethnic cleansing and we are determined to stop that."

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today expressed deep regret at the insistence of authorities to proceed with the eviction.

"We call on the government to suspend the planned eviction, which would disproportionately affect the lives of the gypsy and traveller families, particularly women, children and older people," the committee members said.

Responding to the UN committee's comments, Tony Ball, leader of Basildon Council, said: "The action Basildon Council is taking is about upholding the law, which the travellers have broken. It has nothing to do with their lifestyle or background.

"We would treat any member of the local community who developed or built on green belt land without permission exactly the same.

"We have spent 10 years trying to avoid a forced clearance and always sought to persuade the travellers to move on peacefully, and to help them with that process. In all that time they have refused to cooperate."