Irish travellers vow resistance as eviction-day dawns

19th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The residents of Britain's largest illegal traveller settlement vowed to lock themselves to their property for "as long as it takes" as bailiffs prepared to clear the site on Monday.

Dale Farm resident Kathleen McCarthy, a spokesman for the traveller community, urged officials from Basildon Council in south east England not to treat them "as animals" as Monday's eviction deadline arrived.

"We are living on a hope that they will realise we are not animals, we are humans," she said at a press conference late Sunday.

McCarthy promised that residents would chain themselves to their caravans for "as long as it takes" as they fight to remain at the six-acre (2.4-hectare) camp.

The residents, from the Irish traveller community, own the plots of land at the site 25 miles (40 kilometres) east of London, but do not have planning permission for the dwellings erected on them.

Around 240 people are believed to be living on the 51 plots, but will be forced to leave on Monday after losing a 10-year legal battle earlier in the month.

Basildon Council, backed by the police, is set to evict them in an operation it estimates will cost £8 million ($12.6 million, 9.2 million euros) and the travellers have refused the council's offer to be rehoused.

Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave and a former United Nations official have both backed a campaign to block the eviction.

Tony Ball, leader of the council, said he was "very concerned" by claims that "so-called supporters appear to be calling the shots".

"We wanted to do everything possible to keep residents updated about the operation and to listen to any concerns and address any final requirements," he said Sunday.

"We are very concerned that tension has increased and it may now make our job of clearing the site in a safe and orderly manner even more difficult," he added.

The council said that around 12 families had already left the site on Sunday. Those that remained were busy strengthening defences in preparation for the bailiffs' arrival.

The site, a former scrapyard, has been flooded with supporters -- some sporting the insignia of anarchists -- who have decorated the entrance of the site with banners and slogans.

The camp is located on green belt land, a ring of protected countryside surrounding London.

However travellers argue that other building projects in the area had been given the go-ahead.

"It's nothing to do with green belt land and all to do with discrimination," resident Barbera, who did not want to give her last name, told AFP.

"We have begged for planning permission. We tried to abide by the planning laws and they refused.

"People are getting panic attacks," she added. "They're afraid of the bailiffs coming in and killing them."

Yves Chabannes, a former adviser to the UN on forced evictions, said the travellers were the victims of "a violation of international law" during his visit to the site on Wednesday.

© 2011 AFP

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