Queen of hearts meets the heart of darkness

small charities enlisted the help of the great and good to campaign for a world ban on land-mines, which kill or maim 2,000 a month
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The Independent Online
So what is Diana, Princess of Wales, up to this week, picking her way delicately in her cool white blouse and beige chinos through the dusty red soil and stinking rubbish of a Luandan shanty town?

There is no doubting her sense of timing. A glance at yesterday's newspapers revealed how masterfully she had upstaged her husband's visit to Edinburgh, following reports that St James's Palace is engaged upon a strategy to repackage the Prince to focus on his public achievements rather than his private life.

She pretty much eclipsed, too, the announcement that the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are to share their golden wedding anniversary celebrations with 4,000 other couples who have survived 50 years of marriage. And of the Duchess of York's first day working in Los Angeles on a pounds 500,000 TV commercial for a diet drink - an unprecedented royal product endorsement - there was little mention.

It was not just the scene, though the public is unused to seeing its favourite fashion icon in such distasteful surroundings. It was also the subject matter. How could her ex-husband's daring venture on to Scottish soil - the first royal north of the border since last week's boisterous TV poll in which Scots voted against the monarchy - compete with Lady Di's encounter with representatives of the 70,000 mutilados, the amputees and limbless casualties of the 12 million mines sown, indiscriminately and without markers, in the war-ravaged country which is still the second most heavily mined war zone in the world? (Cambodia is the worst, but her hosts, the Red Cross, thought that was too dangerous a place to take a VIP, even one now stripped of her HRH status).

How could the Prince's public pronouncements of support for the political establishment's new line on rigorous homework yesterday compare with the drama of a statement about devices which "injure innocent victims"? Such men, women and children, Diana said, "may have played no part whatsoever in civil conflict ... International estimates suggest that up to 2,000 people every month are killed or maimed by mines around the world - that's one person every 20 minutes." Clearly, if Diana has been thwarted in her professed ambition to be an "ambassador" of some sort she is determined to create a role of some seriousness for herself.

But what is as interesting as Diana's motives for becoming involved is the process that has led to it. Five years ago the idea of banning land- mines was confined to a handful of individuals who had worked on clearing mines in Cambodia, and later Afghanistan, towards the end of the last decade. Today it has attracted the attention of the most high-profile member of the royal family. To anatomise the events that led from one to the other is to uncover a casebook example of the modern campaign phenomenon.

In the proxy conflicts of the Cold War during the Seventies and Eighties mines became what napalm had been for the Sixties. Originally designed for use against armies, they increasingly became weapons that took their chief toll upon civilians. At first this was by accident, but later by design, as mines were placed to create refugee flow or, as in Bosnia, as instruments of "ethnic cleansing". They emptied territory and created terror. And when the war was over the mines remained. Today there are estimated to be 110 million unexploded mines, scattered over 64 countries, which maim more than 1,900 civilians a month. Between 5 and 10 million more are produced each year.

It was in October 1992 that a British organisation, the Mines Advisory Group, formed two years earlier to assist with detection, clearance and raising awareness among children in Afghanistan, Cambodia and, later, Kurdistan, came together with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation to form the International Campaign to Ban Land-mines. It was a grandiose name for an organisation that was no more than a few passionate individuals with a major task ahead of them.

Early in 1993 they held a conference in London and invited representatives from 20 aid agencies including Oxfam, Unicef, Save the Children, Christian Aid and Cafod, the Catholic development agency . "It chimed in with what we were discovering from our work with refugees," says Cafod's campaigns co-ordinator, Linda Jones. "In Mozambique, Zimbabwe, everywhere we worked we were finding that what was keeping refugees in camps, instead of returning home, was fear of land-mines."

Several European Union governments were pressing for an international ban. But moves to obtain a global ban ran into difficulties at the UN General Assembly when Britain insisted that its high-technology "smart" mines with self-destruct mechanisms should not be classified with the cheap anti-personnel mines. Campaigners were unimpressed. Experts at the International Red Cross asserted that the mechanisms to make the mines "safe" fail in at least 10 per cent of cases - which is enough to make even a "smart" mine-field a continuing danger.

The British government insisted that the failure rate was much less. Independent details were hard to come by. The land-mine trade is cloaked in secrecy. Inquiries in Parliament met with curt refusals to disclose information on security grounds. But through the US Freedom of Information Act some intelligence emerged. Mine manufacturers include Daimler Benz in Germany, Fiat in Italy, Bofors in Sweden, Dynamit Nobel in Austria and, in Britain, the now privatised Royal Ordnance, Hunting Engineering Ltd and Thorn EMI Electronics. Such companies were switching to "smart" mines in the belief that they would remain legal after cheaper Third World "dumb" mines were outlawed.

The aid agencies were unconvinced. "But we were not at first persuaded that it was an issue on which we could mobilise the public," says Linda Jones. "Issues surrounding development and the arms industry are notoriously controversial. Then we ran a small stall at the Christian rock festival Greenbelt, at which we asked people to write to their MP about it. It's hard to persuade people to do that. So we were astonished when 600 sat down, there and then, and did it. We realised we had hit upon something which people felt was a black-and-white issue."

That year the British aid agencies set up the UK Working Group on Landmines and the ball began to roll. Cafod made it the subject of a Month of Action during Lent in 1994. Others outside the church became involved. The British Medical Journal pronounced them a particularly revolting weapon because they drive "dirt, bacteria, clothing and metal and plastic fragments into the tissue causing secondary infections". In Geneva Unicef, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross pleaded for a total ban as part of a review of the 1981 UN Inhumane Weapons Convention.

In Britain the Government announced a partial export moratorium in response to the mounting international pressure but it refused to include "smart" mines or mines which are dropped from the air. Land-mines were "legitimate defensive weapons" if "responsibly" used. John Major stalled over ratifying the fairly feeble 1981 Inhumane Weapons protocol until the last moment, and then signed only to allow Britain to qualify for a place at the review conference.

In March 1995 Cafod launched a national campaign designed to embarrass Britain into backing calls for a comprehensive ban on producing and exporting land-mines. It brought a young Cambodian who lost both his legs to a landmine to Downing Street to hand in a poignant petition, bearing the signatures of 280,000 of his compatriots. The war has left a land-mine in Cambodia for every man, woman and child, it said. Cardinal Hume wrote to the Prime Minister on the subject. The campaign was also launched in London, Maidstone, York, Leeds, Sheffield, Cambridge, Birmingham, Exeter, Bristol and Cardiff. Two months later the Pope called for a total ban on land-mines.

In September, on the eve of the intergovernmental review conference in Vienna for the Inhumane Weapons Convention, Cherie Booth, the Catholic wife of the Labour leader Tony Blair, released thousands of black balloons over the capital, a vigil was held in Westminster cathedral and, as the conference began, Cafod delivered 65,000 protest cards in the shape of butterfly bombs to the Ministry of Defence.

In parliament the Opposition took up the issue, and at the Labour Party conference the party's MPs and MEPs set up a mock battlefield on Brighton beach in a campaign to ban the production and export of anti-personnel landmines. "Land-mines remain an effective defensive weapon," insisted David Davis, the Foreign Office Minister. "Our own Armed Forces have them and need them. If they had to do without land-mines, our forces would be weakened."

But that line of argument was to collapse, too. In March last year, not long after British MPs formed a cross-party group to campaign on mines, the US military announced it was to reconsider its opposition to a worldwide ban. The Gulf War commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf, along with 14 other retired generals, signed an open letter to President Clinton supporting a ban and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General John Shalikashvili, announced that he was "inclined to eliminate all anti-personnel mines".

One week later a report by the Red Cross, written by a retired British brigadier, declared that it had studied 126 recent wars and concluded that "in no case did mines play a major role in determining the outcome of a conflict". The report was backed by a dozen senior officers, including the Gulf War commander Sir Peter de la Billiere and General Sir Hugh Beach, a former Master General of the Ordinance who was chief buyer of weapons for the Army. The military argument for land-mines was "very slender", Beach said.

In April campaigners organised mountains of odd shoes to be piled up in town squares throughout Britain as a reminder of the amputations land- mines caused. The annual assembly of Catholic bishops issued a condemnation. MPs began to sign, in large numbers, an early day motion. On the eve of a second review conference for the 1981 Convention a petition containing 180,000 signatures from British citizens was presented to the Prime Minister by General Sir Hugh Beach and Sir David Puttnam, producer of The Killing Fields.

Celebrities now became involved. At the Hampton Court Flower Show last July Sir Cliff Richard opened a Christian aid "land-mine garden". In October Sally Gunnell, the former Olympic 400m hurdles champion, joined the campaign on the eve of a conference in Ottawa called by the 50 governments who now do support a ban. And now the Diana, Princess of Wales, has been enlisted in the cause after a personal invitation from Lord Attenborough inviting her to the London international premiere of his latest film, In Love and War, in aid of the Red Cross anti-mine campaign. It seemed an inevitable conclusion. Whatever her motives in coming on board, one of the most adroit manipulators of the British media has joined the opposition. How much longer, you may wonder, can John Major now hold out?