Scottish Conservative leader clears land mine on Afghanistan visit

15 February 2018, 10:21 | Updated: 15 February 2018, 10:26

Ruth Davidson land mine halo trust

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has visited Afghanistan with a charity running the world's largest humanitarian mine clearance operation.

Ruth Davidson spent four days in Kabul with the Halo Trust, based in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, as it handed back control of 95 million square metres of land to the local government after a 10-year scheme to remove landmines and unexploded debris.

The MSP exploded an anti-personnel mine during a training exercise after being taught how to find, excavate and remove the lethal devices.

She also discussed security with members of the Afghan government and spoke to female Afghan MPs about women's participation in politics before flying back on Wednesday.

Ms Davidson said: "The Halo Trust is one of the great Scottish success stories. From its base in Dumfriesshire it now has around 8,000 full time staff around the world operating in conflict and post-conflict zones.

"Literally millions of families have been able to return to their home safely thanks to its work. As a long-term supporter, I was honoured to have been asked to see its work for myself."

She added: "Every region in Afghanistan is affected by mines and while some have been laid during the current conflict, thousands are left over from the wars of the past.

"Every minefield has the capacity to maim and kill civilians and they stop local people from being able to farm, build or even travel certain key routes.

"Learning the techniques of landmine clearance has shown me just how dangerous and painstaking the work is.

"Halo's staff are committed to ensuring that every part of Afghanistan has a future and every person living here has a chance to go about their daily life without the threat of stepping on one of these killing machines."

She said in a week where non-governmental organisations were prominent for "all the wrong reasons" the work of the Halo Trust is the "real story of what aid money can achieve".

The decade-long clearance of more than 600,000 items of ammunition and explosive from Herat province was helped by £19.8 million from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

Halo Trust chief executive officer James Cowan said: "Not many politicians get to visit Afghanistan and it takes a certain sort to face its dangers only a few days after some major attacks.

"Ruth saw for herself the work of the 3,500 HALO staff who work across the country. She also witnessed the amazing contribution that the UK DFID is making to clearing the country of landmines. DFID support is saving lives and creating livelihoods."