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Last Updated: Friday, 26 March, 2004, 13:09 GMT
Libya considers Branson mine plea
Richard Branson, who controls Virgin Express
Richard Branson part owns the company that developed the airship
The Libyan government is considering a request from UK businessman Sir Richard Branson for investment in a mine clearance charity.

The Mineseeker Foundation is developing a system to pinpoint landmines by radar from a helium-filled airship. The scheme will cost up to 30m.

Defence firm Qinetiq and the Lightship Group - formerly part-owned by Sir Richard - founded the charity.

The news comes a day after Tony Blair made an historic trip to Libya.

He met leader Muammar Gaddafi on the outskirts of Tripoli.

Impressive

Thursday's meeting follows Libya's renunciation of weapons of mass destruction in December, changes that Mr Blair said were "extraordinary".

He said he had been struck by how Colonel Gaddafi wanted to make "common cause with us against al-Qaeda, extremists and terrorism".

Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi shake hands

Sir Richard and Mineseeker Foundation chairman Mike Kendrick recently returned from Tripoli after meeting Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem.

"We have had an informal discussion with the Libyans since they have a historic mine problem," Mr Kendrick said.

"We are asking if they would be prepared to assist with the funding. They are interested and we are awaiting their response."

A prototype of Qinetiq's radar system on an airship provided by the Lightship Group was trialled in Kosovo in 2000, and it now needs to be made fully-operational.

Dr Ghanem told the BBC that his government is impressed by the scheme and is considering a request for a multi-million pound investment in it.

Clearance

Every year about 26,000 people - a third of them children - are maimed or killed by landmines around the world.

Landmine clearances have been mainly done by hand - a difficult, dangerous and slow task.

However, the Mineseeker Foundation's device is able to scan the soil for mines from an overhead airship.

The pictures it sends to a computer can quickly pinpoint the exact position and size of the mines.

Mr Kendrick said: "The problem is, one mine goes off and they designate a huge area as mined, therefore it is not available to the local population for agricultural purposes.

"We could survey these areas and pinpoint exactly where these mines are, and release the mine-free land back to the people."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mike Thomson
"Sir Richard and Mike Kendrick are hoping the Libyan leader will dig deep in his pockets"



SEE ALSO:
Airship joins search for mines
20 Sep 00  |  UK News
US promises 'safer' landmines
27 Feb 04  |  Americas
Hopes rise in war on landmines
14 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific



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