Britain's Royal Ordnance headed a consortium, including Lonrho and Mechem of South Africa, which recently won a dollars 5m ( pounds 3.3m) UN contract to clear landmines from 1,200 miles of roads in Mozambique. This was the largest mine-clearance contract awarded by the world body.
Mechem has been developing landmines and other military equipment for the South African Defence Force for the past 26 years. Royal Ordnance, the former government-run munitions supplier now owned by British Aerospace, has not produced landmines for 10 years, but was recently involved in a Ministry of Defence programme to develop a new generation of anti-tank mines. The programme was cancelled because of defence cuts, but not before Royal Ordnance poured large amounts of money into the project.
Humanitarian groups call the practice of making money from both production and clearance of landmines 'double-dipping', and oppose it.
'It is outrageous that international money ostensibly earmarked for humanitarian purposes should go to arms manufacturers and indirectly fund their research and development of weapons to kill people - in the case of mines, mainly civilians,' said Rae McGrath, the director of Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a British humanitarian landmine clearance organisation.
MAG is part of a grassroots campaign of more than 100 humanitarian organisations, including the main UN aid agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, all calling for a ban on the production and export of landmines.
Britain is at the forefront of countries opposed to a blanket landmine ban - a position recently reaffirmed by John Major.
Once a conflict is over, minefields cannot be easily remembered and so cause carnage for years after they were sown. Handicap International, a Lyons-based humanitarian group, reckons there have been more than a million mine casualties in the past 15 years. More than 100 million mines are estimated to be scattered around 62 countries.
Royal Ordnance would not comment on the UN contract, but senior UN officials have confirmed the award and say it was a mistake to have given the contract to companies that manufacture weapons. 'It is now our view that no arms producer can ever again receive a UN mine clearance contract,' said David Gowdy, an official in the UN Humanitarian Affairs Department.
Some humanitarian groups, such as Oxfam, say arms producers' trying to make money by selling and then clearing landmines underlines the need for a global ban. 'Everyone who examines the problem in any depth ultimately comes to the same conclusion: ban mines,' said Tony Vaux, Oxfam's emergency programme co-ordinator.
In a letter to Andrew Welsh, MP for Angus East, Mr Major wrote last month: 'We are indeed concerned about the terrible suffering caused by the indiscriminate use of anti-personnel landmines.' The Overseas Development Administration had spent pounds 5m cleaning up minefields over the past three years. But Mr Major said anti-personnel mines were 'legitimate defensive military weapons, provided they are used responsibly' and do not pose 'grave dangers' to civilians.
Rather than banning all mines, Britain wants wider adherence by countries to Protocol II of the 1980 UN Inhumane Weapons Convention, which lays down strict rules on the use of mines. However, UN bodies and many governments think the Protocol is flawed because it concentrates on tightening rules for mine laying.
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