THE Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has acknowledged its former Cambodia program director
paid a ransom in a failed attempt to get the release of kidnapped staff Christopher
Howes and Houn Hourth.
The admission followed an article in England's The Mail on Sunday, which reported
that director Archie McCarron paid $120,000 to a Khmer intermediary in Phnom Penh
Howes, a British demining expert, and Hourn, his translator, were kidnapped from
Siem Reap province in March last year. Their fate remains unknown.
McCarron, after being recalled to the UK, was made redundant in February. MAG's UK
director Roger Briottet also lost his job.
The Mail said McCarron handed over US$120,000 in cash to the intermediary, who was
not identified in the article, in Phnom Penh on November 18. Part of it, $70,000,
was supposed to be passed on to the kidnappers immediately, and the other $50,000
to be paid when the hostages were freed. The intermediary later returned $40,000
of the money, the article said.
It stated that McCarron handed over the money - which came from MAG funds - without
the knowledge of the British Foreign Office or Scotland Yard, but with the approval
of former UK director Briottet. "Anything he did or proposed, I was aware of,"
the Mail quoted Briottet as saying about McCarron.
The article prompted a statement by MAG's new UK management which said that the NGO's
trustees and other staff members were not aware of McCarron and Briottet's action.
"It is also the belief of the new Director of MAG that the Foreign Office and
Scotland Yard were also unaware of any payment that was made," the MAG statement
Money was paid over without any proof of life and we consider this to be totally
irresponsible and totally unacceptable. We are concerned about any payment of ransoms
as this could put our staff and other NGOs at risk," the new director, Lou McGrath,
said in the statement.
MAG's new Cambodia program director, Ian Brown, echoed head-office sentiment. "What
I want to stress very strongly is that the decision [to pay the ransom] was made
solely by [McCarron and Briottet] and not the board of trustees.
"The action was a direct contradiction of the kidnapping policies of the British
government and MAG's policy," he said. "The new management of MAG will
follow the British government policy on kidnapping and will work through Scotland
Yard and the British Embassy."
Brown added that he fears news of the ransom payment could pose added risks to workers
in the field. "I want to stress that the decision was irresponsible and has
put our staff and other deminers and all NGOs in danger. We appeal to them to be