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UK bus owner defends Iraq trip

Human shields still arriving, says anti-war campaigner

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The owner of the two peace buses wants to travel back to Britain by sea.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- An anti-war campaigner who took two red double-decker buses to Iraq with passengers intending to become human shields still insists the mission was a success.

Joe Letts and about a dozen fellow Britons were heading home on the buses -- some saying they had abandoned their plan because of "safety fears."

The mission has attracted some ridicule, with reports of petty infighting, while some abandoned their protest saying they expected to be defending hospitals, not power stations and oil refineries as instructed by Iraqi officials.

On Tuesday the buses, which left Iraq on Sunday, were stranded on the Lebanon-Syria border because diesel fuel is banned in Lebanon. Letts said he hoped to raise enough cash for a sea journey back to Britain from Beirut.

Letts, who owns the buses and a taxi used in the mission, said although his group had left Iraq more human shields were arriving in Baghdad.

A total of 200 people from around the world have travelled to Iraq as part of the International Truth, Justice, Peace, Human Shield Action Group, but many have left as money ran short and the prospect of war became more likely.

"Something like 40 countries were represented by the shields there and what we've succeeding in doing is talking to all our press and media back home and getting attention on the plight of the ordinary people, which is what we went for," he told BBC Radio 4.

He said the convoy would wait in the mountains on the border until they could find an alternative way of getting home.

Letts added: "I was always coming home because the buses are my livelihood. I didn't intend to stay in Baghdad for more than four or five days and stayed longer to help with organizing the deployment into the various sites -- the power station and oil refinery, water purification, food storage, those sorts of sites that are so important to the Iraqi people."

He told Reuters: "We got paid a basic amount for the mileage. But I have not been paid for my time," he said, adding that he charged a minimal amount for the trip because he opposed a war on Iraq.

'Superb hosts'

Letts described the Iraqi regime as "superb hosts", adding: "They looked after us very well. They found simple, plain hotel apartment accommodation for us and getting us food and gave us really everything that we asked for."

Meanwhile, some 50 Swedish human shields began to leave Iraq on Monday and more were expected to follow, Swedish public service SR radio news reported.

"Most of them came to Iraq to be human shields at hospitals and schools but were forced out to refineries, electrical power plants and water works instead," Niklas Skeppar, a spokesman for the Human Shields grassroots network, told SR.


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