Labour Conference: Britain takes leading role in drive to eradicate landmines

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Ministers will today announce a two-pronged initiative on landmines. After a ban on new British mines and its support for moves to do the same worldwide, the Government is now promising new funds to help with clearance work. Fran Abrams reports

Tribute will be paid at the conference today to the work of the Princess of Wales against landmines as ministers reveal details of their own latest initiatives.

The move by George Robertson, the Defence Secretary, and Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, marks a recognition that there is still a long way to go on the issue.

Mr Robertson will announce the creation of a new centre to provide information and training on landmines. He will give fuller details later this month. The centre will be run by the Ministry of Defence, but it will be used by charities and mine clearance groups as well as academics. It will provide advice and assistance to organisations such as the Red Cross as well as the Halo Trust and the Mines Advisory Group, which do mine clearance work.

Mr Robertson will say: "The British army is among the world's leaders in military demining, and in Bosnia and elsewhere is determined that its skills and experience can be applied in support of humanitarian demining operations as well. I intend to build on that by increasing the assistance which the Army gives to those involved.

Although the British army is not equipped or trained for humanitarian demining, as opposed to the kind carried out in battle to allow troops through, Mr Robertson believes his department could do more to help. However, the new centre will concentrate on giving advice and assistance to others rather than involving British soldiers directly in the work.

Ms Short will announce in her speech to the conference that the pounds 5m her department spends on humanitarian demining projects will be doubled to pounds 10m over the next three years.

She will also announce a new forestry project in Indonesia which will signal the direction that her department intends to take over supplying aid to that country.

In the past, Britain has concentrated more of its aid on infrastructure programmes, often through the controversial Aid and Trade programme. It is hoped that in future more of the poorer people in Indonesia will feel the benefit.