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Guy Willoughby, Halo Trust
"The Russians are taking a swing at us"
 real 28k

Friday, 11 August, 2000, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Mine charity rejects spy charges
Chechen war
Halo Trust worked in Chechnya after the 1994-96 war
The head of a British mine-clearing charity accused of spying and training Chechen rebels in the use of explosives has dismissed the allegations as a smear campaign

Russia's federal security service, the FSB, accused the Halo Trust - the world's biggest mine-clearing charity, which was supported by Diana, Princess of Wales - of spying on Russia since 1998.

But the trust's director, Guy Willoughby, said the charges were absurd and followed similar accusations last year designed to drive the charity from Chechnya.

The FSB said the trust, which has a staff of 150 Chechens, established a network of informers and trained demolition specialists.

The Russians have just decided to take a swing at us

Guy Willoughby, Halo Trust
Mr Willoughby told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The Russians have just decided to take a swing at us when there is a lull in fighting. We just don't accept it."

The Halo Trust, which is partly funded by the UK Government, began operations after Russian planes showered mines on Chechnya and planted the weapons during the 1994-96 war.

Halo said it had recorded 296 mined areas in Chechnya after the war and claimed this was frightening refugees from returning home.

But the FSB claimed that Halo had not only trained its Chechen staff to clear mines, but also to plant them.

An FSB statement said: "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."

It claimed the trust was "training demolition specialists for international terrorist groups fighting in Chechnya".

Positions 'weakened'

The trust opened its office in Chechnya in 1997 with the help of Chechnya's President, Aslan Maskhadov, and without permission of Russian authorities, the FSB said.

"People trained by high-level Halo Trust officials weakened Russian positions, which in turn permitted Chechen rebels to attack federal troops," Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzembsky said.

Princess Diana in Angola
The Halo Trust organised Princess Diana's visit to Angola
Mr Willoughby said his organisation was invited to help with mine-clearing in Chechnya by Russia's national security council and that most of the individuals named by the FSB were not working for the charity at the time.

The charity stopped mine-clearing in Chechnya last September when fighting renewed and it concentrated instead on providing medical assistance, he added.

The trust withdrew completely from Russia last December.

'Astonishing accusations'

BBC Moscow correspondent Andrew Parsons said the FSB had laid "a whole string of astonishing accusations at the charity's door".

These included entering Russia under false pretences and never registering to work there.

The Foreign Office said it did not comment on intelligence matters but it has raised its concern with Moscow.

Halo - which organised Princess Diana's visit to see landmine victims in Angola - also has offices in Cambodia, Afghanistan, Angola and Mozambique.

The agency said its funding comes from the governments of Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Japan, Canada and private donations.

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See also:

11 Aug 00 | Europe
Halo in action
29 Jan 99 | Angola
Landmines: War's deadly legacy
01 Mar 99 | World
Scourge of the landmine
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