LONDON - British demining group Halo Trust has attacked the international campaign
to ban anti-personnel mines as "totally irrelevant" and a waste of charitable
Halo director Guy Willoughby, who is based in Dumfries, Scotland, said that no army
in the world is going to stop using anti-personnel mines and all those trying to
get the devices banned are therefore living in "cloud cuckoo land".
Willoughby's public criticism is very rare in the normally tight world of humanitarian
demining, particularly so in Cambodia where the likes of the Mines Advisory Group
(MAG), the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) and Halo itself make it a policy not
to openly snipe at one another. It's probably the first time too that an NGO - especially
one whose job it is to find and clear mines - has spoken out so forcefully against
Campaign chiefs in London are angry and baffled at Willoughby's comments. They fear
Halo might harm a movement that has been very visible and effective up till now.
The campaign, begun in 1991, now has 750 members, including Save the Children, Medecins
sans Frontiers, Oxfam, UNICEF, World Vision, Cambodia Trust, Human Rights Watch and
Willoughby, stressing he wasn't advocating the use of mines, said that the campaign
"didn't have a snowball's chance in hell" of telling armies such as those
from Cambodia, Mozambique or Angola, if they came under military pressure, to stop
"If the USSR [sic] invades Sussex in five years from now, are the [British government]
going to ban the use of mines? Are they hell.
"Halo doesn't follow the view that mines are laid randomly by insurgents against
a civilian population. But that's what a lot of people believe. The vast majority
of minefields are defensive and laid for a [military] reason," Willoughby said.
He said that if "somebody was knocking on your front door and you had nowhere
to run, of course you'd use mines to defend your life and the lives of your family."
He said there were instances in Bosnia where Muslim populations made mines from fire
extinguishers and bullets to stop their enemies.
And in Cambodia "we follow statistics from hospital casualties. The vast majority
[of Cambodia mine victims] trod on mines laid by the Cambodian government... The
mines were laid to stop the Khmer Rouge going walkabouts," he said.
"Halo is just putting a little truth into the mines issue at the moment, instead
of everyone jumping up and down saying ban the mines.
"What's killing Cambodians is the mines laid yesterday, not the mines that might
be laid in five years time."
Willoughby asked "what is the campaign doing with their money? It's a jamboree
of going around conferences, from Tokyo to Timbuktu. It's not a good cause, it's
He said the campaign had never asked Halo to join, "and we were the first group
set up in the world for humanitarian demining. We know what we're talking about."
"All we do is to clear mines, and help the victims of mines. [The campaign]
is all hot air," he said.
Campaign spokespeople Tim Castairs, of the UK Working Group on Mines, and Clair Crawford
of MAG, said Willoughby's comments were a great shame.
They suggested that Halo, while doing good work in the field, was not interested
in moving the mine debate forward for the sake of the people the NGO was supposed
to be serving.
Crawford said she suspected Willoughby's views were not shared by Halo workers in
The campaign's 750 members supported a total ban on mines "because they can't
carry out their work in areas that are mined," she said.
"MAG wouldn't be fulfilling its mandate if it didn't speak for the people of
the communities were it works clearing mines. They don't have a voice."
Crawford said it was pointless for mine clearance groups such as Halo to keep pulling
mines out the ground if they did not also call for a ban so no more mines would be
Castairs wondered "why are [Halo] still clearing mines?", given Willoughby's
comments. "It's like a prosthetics group making artificial legs for polio victims,
and at the same time saying there shouldn't be any polio vaccinations because 'that's
a waste of time.'... It's morally indefensible."
Both Castairs and Crawford shrugged off the criticism that money was being wasted.
"The money we spend is irrelevant in regards to the money spent on mine manufacturing,
and mine clearance," Castairs said.
"The campaign's job is to make sure people have the right
information to make reasonable judgments and arguments," Crawford said.
The debate over the campaign to ban mines came as Cambodia marked its third annual
Mines Awareness Day Feb 24, and the following day an international conference on
landmines began in Mozam-bique.
The Fourth International NGO Conference on Landmines, a four-day event in the Mozambique
capital of Maputo, was attended by more than 400 delegates from more than 60 countries.
The delegates included Cambodia's, Venerable Maha Ghosanda, and several Khmer amputees.
The campaign received a pre-conference boost Feb 20 with an announcement by South
Africa's government of an immediate ban the use of anti-personnel mines.
Conference organizers said the announcement gave a huge boost to the possibility
of a mine-free southern Africa, and that they held high hopes of being able to get
all African countries to sign a treaty banning mines later this year.