Non-governmental organisations involved in mine clearance are dismayed at a proposal they say will allow a commercial arms firm to profit from dealing with a problem it helped to create.
The Labour MP proposing the move, Lindsay Hoyle, says Royal Ordnance is an appropriate choice for funds because it has "essential knowledge" gained by clearing mines in developing countries. ''They have been involved in clearance projects in countries such as Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia," he said. "The level of expertise in the landmine clearance team therefore was evident and a training centre seemed like an excellent way of passing on this essential knowledge."
However, Oxfam, a member of the UK Working Group on Landmines, questions the move. "If Royal Ordnance want to get more involved with clearing these weapons, all well and good, but that would mean the same people getting recognition from Diana's good work who helped cause the problem in the first place," said a spokesman. Organisations such as Royal Ordnance should halt manufacture and put their profits into clearance work, he said.
The Scottish-based landmine-clearing NGO Halo Trust voiced surprise that Royal Ordnance should be in line for handouts. "When we train people we do it on the ground in mine-affected countries. We have in excess of 100 nationals to every expatriate member of staff so I don't know if Royal Ordnance want all those nationals flown over to Lancashire to attend their training school," a spokesman said.
Royal Ordnance has benefited from the practice known as "double dipping", in which a firm is paid to remove landmines it manufactured. After the Gulf War it won a pounds 55m contract to clear mines in Kuwait.The signing last month of the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines highlighted the need for rapid clearance of the 100-million-plus mines strewn across the world.
The former director of the Cumbria-based Mines Advisory Group, Rae McGrath, is also critical of the MP's proposal. He believes that funding would be best used in training indigenous peoples in the manual methods of clearance. Manual clearance is favoured by non-profit-making non-governmental organisations such as the Mines Advisory Group and the Halo Trust. This involves teams working on cordoned-off strips of land with a metal detector and prod. When an anti-personnel mine is found, it is uncovered and marked, then detonated later.
But while the manual method is thorough and ensures that land is cleared to United Nations standards of 99.6 per cent, it is a slow process because of the high number of false alarms. Every piece of metal registered by the detector has to be seen as a potential mine and investigated. Teams of de-miners must also be rested regularly to maintain their concentration.
Peter Neunham of Thomson Thorn Missile Electronics said that "potentially there is quite a lot of research and development money available within the European Union".
A consortium including Daimler-Benz Aerospace and Thomson CSF Missile Electronics in France has won the right to develop the first six-month stage of a project involving a vehicle, metal detector, ground-probing radar and sensor systems.
But the value of sensor systems is in question. A spokesman for the Halo Trust said: "We are not yet satisfied that sensor systems are sensitive enough and particularly suitable for deployment to Third World nations. Our experiences with ground-penetrating radar suggest that it is years away from becoming an effective tool within the minefield."
Another arms-related company heavily involved in clearance and development of new technologies is Mechem, the research and development wing of the South African government-owned arms manufacturer Denel. The managing director of Mechem, Vernon Joynt, has promoted himself with the UN as an expert on de-mining techniques and Mechen have reaped the rewards, gaining lucrative contracts in Mozambique and Angola. Dr Joynt has boasted that "there are some mines in Angola which no one will be able to find without our help".
Rae McGrath remains sceptical. He points out that the manual method is still the cheapest and most effective means of clearing mines. It costs just pounds l,500 to train an indigenous de-miner and pounds 10 a day to keep one in the field. "The three components of human resources, equipment and money are what is required to clear more mines," he said. A spokesman for the Halo Trust said: "There is lots of money being spent around mine clearance, but when people put money into scientific research it is because they want to invest in that rather than because they want to find a solution to the mine problem. There is no such thing as a free lunch".