Firm defies land mine export ban

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John Major has personally ordered a top-level investigation of a British company suspected of exporting lethal land mines in defiance of Government efforts to stamp out the deadly trade.

Government embarrassment over the company has been compounded by an advertisement placed in a defence magazine published at Westminster and circulated among ministers, MPs and officials.

In April this year, David Davis, the Foreign Office minister, announced the Government was working towards achieving a worldwide ban on anti-personnel mines. In a letter following his announcement Mr Davis said: "As far as we are aware, anti-personnel land mines were last manufactured in Britain in 1986. We have not exported any anti-personnel land mines since 1982."

Yet the latest issue of Parliamentary Defence Review 1996 carries an advertisement from Londesborough Security Equipment, a Birmingham-based firm which sells to countries around the world.

It boasts of manufacturing "anti-personnel mines which are very lethal and would take a long time to to sweep clear ... very low-cost weapon system".

Londesborough is a private firm which was founded in 1962, and has been dealing with the Ministry of Defence and police forces since then. It specialises in "vehicle arresting systems," used by police forces to burst the tyres of speeding and stolen cars.

The move into land mines is a recent one. The company's Scatterjacks system is intended to prevent aircraft using airstrips. The explosive devices are scattered over the airfield and explode on impact, shooting a spike upwards into an aircraft's tyre. However, as the advertisement makes clear, they also have another purpose - as an anti-personnel mine.

The company's literature makes no mention of how the mines are safely destroyed. Ironically, the same advertisement promotes another Londesborough product: "Mine clearance protective footwear - will afford protection against injury from ground munitions."

Cheap and easy to deploy, land mines have become one of the scourges of modern warfare, causing countless deaths and mutilations in places like Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia and Iraq.

Critics of the Government have accused it of not doing enough to curb the trade and turning a blind eye to mine exports. During the Iran-Iraq war, for instance, a company based in Britain, not Londesborough, put together a deal to sell 9 million mines to Saddam Hussein. The Italian manufacturer of the mines was prosecuted in Italy and seven of its officials were convicted. In this country, despite documentary evidence of the British company's involvement and a Government arms embargo on military sales to Iraq, no prosecutions were brought.Dangerous harvest, page 14