Veteran British mine clearers in Jaffna

[TamilNet, Friday, 21 June 2002, 09:52 GMT]
A British mine clearing organisation, the HALO Trust has begun a five year project in the Jaffna peninsula, Sri Lankan state media reported Thursday. Halo’s activities will begin with a six month survey of northern Sri Lanka, the charity said.

HALO will help in the ongoing mine clearance activities to aid the resettlement programme in the Jaffna peninsula, Programme Manager, Richard Boulter told the Daily News.

HALO, which will begin clearing operations in government controlled areas with an initial staff of 40 de-miners and hopes to train 500 local people in the work, opened an office in Jaffna on Wednesday. HALO aims initially to deploy nine manual teams, three mechanical units, 3 vegetation cutters and employ a staff total of over 300.

"We have requested the assistance of the Security Forces and discussed the operation plans with the Defence Ministry," said Boulter. The initial program will cost four million US dollars. The BBC says HALO is partly funded by the UK Government.

HALO says it is being supported by the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) and Foundation Pro Victimis to undertake a mine and danger area survey of northern Sri Lanka. The survey is expected to last six months from June.

"The survey will not only produce an accurate picture of the overall problem, but will involve the posting of [warning signs] around hazardous areas in order to warn returnees of the unseen dangers that lurk," HALO said.

The Daily News said HALO has teams in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, Eritrea, Somalia and Georgia and has almost completed operations in Kosovo and has conducted assessment missions in Bosnia, Vietnam, Laos, South Sudan, Tajikistan and South Lebanon.

Last August Russian intelligence accused the HALO Trust of spying against Russia and aiding rebel fighters in Chechnya, British media reports said. FSB, Russia’s domestic intelligence service, also alleged that several HALO Trust employees were undercover British intelligence agents or army officers, The Guardian newspaper said.

"Under cover of mine-clearing operations, [the HALO Trust] ..... carried out full-scale topographic surveillance of Chechnya, fixing Chechen villages to the NATO frame of reference. ... Representatives of HALO collected intelligence of a military-political character, and with these aims maintained close contacts with Chechen leaders and established a many-pronged network of informers from the local population," the FSB alleged.

The British charity's director, Guy Willoughby, a former British Army Coldstream Guards officer, flatly dismissed the Russian charges.

Senior aid workers with long experience of the extremely dangerous conditions in Chechnya praised the HALO Trust's professionalism and courage in conducting mine clearance operations that no one else would take on, The Guardian reported.


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