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Now or never: get rid of nuclear weapons

Despite the bad weather thousands of Bombspotters have gathered in Kleine Brogel today to denounce the illegal nuclear policy of the Belgian government. They responded to the appeal of Vredesactie and were not intimidated by the massive presence of police and military personnel, kilometres of barbwire, several helicopters and guard dogs that were being deployed in order to try to keep the illegal nuclear policy in place. Hundreds of Bombspotters succeeded to peacefully trespass on the military air base of Kleine Brogel, thus trying to have international law respected.

Nuclear weapons can not be used without violating international humanitarian law. The deployment of these weapons as well as the training of Belgian pilots to drop nuclear bombs are clear preparations for war crimes.

Between the hundreds of arrestees there are also two journalists. All of the detained protesters are being questioned one at the time and it is still unclear when people will be released.

The campaign and this bombspotting event from Vredesactie has been widely supported. Greenpeace mobilized it supporters and volunteers well in advance, while today Pax Christi and ACW Limburg held a vigil with 150 people just outside the base at the end of the runway. They read poems and held 30 minutes of silence for all victims of nuclear weapons, throughout the past as well as future ones. The massive amount of police and soldiers were watching it all with amused curiosity.

Meanwhile at the other site of the military compound, near the entrance of the US military squadron, a joyful musical performance took place. A crowd of about two hundred people from all over Belgium celebrated the opening from the 'nature reserve Kleine Brogel'. The acting mayor of Kleine Brogel treated the audience with a speech on the danger of nuclear weapons and putting an end to the military use of the site. Then his wife cut the ribbon and - under the swinging tunes of a band from Liège - the festivities started.

This action is part of a European day of protest against nuclear weapons, during which demonstrations are staged at all the nuclear weapons bases in Europe.

Getting rid of nuclear weapons: now or never

2010 offers unique opportunities for nuclear disarmament. As of 3 May 2010, the 187 countries that signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the treaty that is supposed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, are reuniting. In 2010, NATO is reviewing its strategy and this time it can choose to do so without nuclear weapons.

Throughout Europe the political will to get rid of the NATO nuclear weapons is growing. Belgian top politicians are pleading for a nuclear-free Europe, but so far our government has not dared to take a stand. The Bombspotters demand that the Belgian government assume its responsibility: the nuclear weapons have to go and as a member of NATO Belgium has to plead for the unconditional rejection of the illegal nuclear strategy.

Government, assume your responsibility: disarm

One year ago president Obama put nuclear disarmament back on the international political agenda, but so far not much has been achieved.
The START treaty finally has a successor, but large steps towards nuclear disarmament have not been made.

Despite all the rhetoric about a nuclear weapons-free world the nuclear states are not making any serious commitments to put that theory into practice, and are modernising their nuclear weapons. In May of 2010, the NPT Review Conference starts. All countries that have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty will be making new agreements about the further application of this treaty and therefore also about the requirement to disarm, contained within this treaty. In 2010 NATO will review its Strategic Concept. In november a new version of this Strategic Concept will be approved and in doing so the nuclear strategy of NATO will be determined for the coming decade.

Belgium is quite capable of playing a roll in further steps towards nuclear disarmament. The Bombspotters demand that the Belgian government assume its responsibility: the nuclear weapons have to go and as a member of NATO Belgium has to plead for the unconditional rejection of the illegal nuclear strategy.

Belgium is one of the five countries that have put nuclear weapons on the agenda of the next informal NATO meeting with ministers of foreign affairs in Talinn on 22-23 April. But no one can say what this initiative really means. We therefore ask that the Belgian government make a clear case for the removal of the nuclear weapons.

Dozens of nonviolent actions

“We are not part of the negotiations. We can not form new treaties, but we can prevent the illegal agreements concerning nuclear weapons from being executed in silence, far away from any public scrutiny. That is why as of December 2009 Vredesactie is staging non stop non-violent actions at the military base at Kleine Brogel”, says Inez Louwagie of Vredesactie.

Hundreds of people and organisations have responded to the appeal. Dozens of actions have been executed in the meantime. In December Saint Nicolas jumped the fence at Kleine Brogel. In January a team of non-violent action trainers made the world news. They walked through an open gate and almost reached the plane hangars where the nuclear bombs are stored. The day after the appeal for nuclear disarmament by our four top politicians and the rather unambitious response of our prime minister, again forty Bombspotters were present at Kleine Brogel.

Singing choirs sang war songs, some people from Ghent dug a tunnel to the nuclear weapons, with big balloons Greenpeace prevented F-16s grom taking off ...Today, 3 April, is the main event of this series that will continue until the start of the NPT-conference in May 2010. Hundreds of Bombspotters will perform non-violent actions on and around the military domain. They will have pic-nics on the landing strip, make their protests heard with fanfares, keep a silent vigil with Pax Christi, ...

European day of action

Today’s action is also part of a European day of action against nuclear weapons. Anywhere in Europe where nuclear weapons are deployed, non-violent actions are being organised. In Great-Britain, Trident Ploughshares organises a blockade at the base of Faslane, where the British nuclear submarines are stationed. In France, non-violent actions are being organised at the base of Mont-Marsan (a nuclear weapons warehouse), in Brest at the FOST-headquarters (Force Océanique STratégique, the French nuclear submarines) and on 2 April at the ministry of defence in Paris. In Germany there will be a demonstration at the base of Büchel on 4 April, and the removal of the NATO nuclear weapons is one of the central demands of the Easter marches that take place all over Germany. In holland, Ontwapen organises a cleanup-action near and on the base of Volkel. In Turkey, actions take place in Ankara and Istanbul. Finally in Italy a demonstration was organised on 21 March at the base of Aviano.

The Bombspotting campaign

Just like the previous years the Bombspotting action is preceded by threatening words from the government, the installing of miles of barbed wire and the deployment of more than a thousand soldiers and police personnel. And yet the Bombspotting campaign is nothing but a non-violent attempt to make sure international law is applied.

Nuclear weapons can not be used without violating international humanitarian law. Their deployment and the training of Belgian pilots for their use, constitutes the preparation of crimes of war. The decision of the International Court of 8 July 1996 concerning nuclear weapons was therefore the incentive to start a campaign in order to incite our government to respect international humanitarian law and put an end to the deployment of nuclear weapons. Since 1997, a large group of people have participated in non-violent civilian inspections, during which in, analogy with the UN-inspectors in Iraq, they try to end the deployment of illegal weapons of mass destruction. The Belgian justice system has never dared to have a thorough judicial discussion in court.

The only reaction from the government that remains, is to convert the base into a fort to protect its illegal policies from its civilians. The actions have succeeded in putting nuclear weapons on the political agenda, and an ever growing group of politicians have spoken out against further deployment of nuclear weapons. In 2005 Belgian parliament for the first time drafted a resolution asking for their removal. This year, Jean-Luc Dehaene, Willy Claes, Guy Verhofstadt and Louis Michel echoed the same point of view, as did dozens of members of parliament from all parties in a letter to president Obama. Will this growing political conscience finally be put into practice by the Belgian government in 2010?

The ministry of defence states that it is tired of the Bombspotting actions. Vredesactie will gladly put a stop to the Bombspotting campaign, when the Belgian government aligns itself with international humanitarian law and removes the nuclear weapons from Kleine Brogel.

Updates and pictures will be made available through http://www.bomspotting.be.