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Ex-Beatle McCartney to wed humanitarian

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LONDON — Sir Paul McCartney, the former Beatle who lost his first wife to cancer three years ago, is engaged to be married to Heather Mills, an activist for land mine victims.

McCartney, 59, proposed Monday during a trip to Britain's Lake District, his spokesman said. The two plan to marry some time next year.

Mills, 33, is a former swimwear model whose left leg was amputated below the knee after she was run down by a police motorcyclist in 1993.

The spokesman said McCartney bought the sapphire and diamond engagement ring in India earlier this year.

"Paul and Heather said today they would like to thank their relatives and friends for all the great support they have shown them since they met two years ago," said a statement from McCartney's office.

McCartney, who was knighted in 1997, has three grown children and a stepdaughter from his first marriage.

McCartney spoke briefly with journalists Thursday outside his home in St. John's Wood, north London. Asked how he proposed to his fiancee, the former Beatle said, "That's private, that's just for me." He then went back inside for a quiet dinner with his future wife.

McCartney met Mills at a charity function when she appealed for help for her own foundation, The Heather Mills Trust, which provides limbs for war victims. McCartney said last year he was smitten instantly.

"So I found out her telephone number — like you do — and rang her up and said we should talk about some charity stuff," he said. "I did fancy her from the start, but I was playing it cool."

The former Beatle's romance with his first wife was legendary among fans.

Linda McCartney, an acclaimed photographer who had been a crusader for vegetarianism and animal rights, died from breast cancer on April 17, 1998, at the family's Arizona ranch. McCartney's spokesman said then that the couple had spent just one night apart in their 30 years of marriage.

McCartney said in December 1999 that he'd cried for 14 months after her death, but felt he was finally ready to get on with life.

Mills told reporters last year that she wished she had been able to meet Linda.

"To keep any marriage going for 30 years is a fantastic achievement, but to keep a rock 'n' roll marriage going for that long is unbelievable," Mills said. "She did a wonderful job with Paul and her family and I have got nothing but admiration for her."

Before her accident, Mills helped set up a refugee crisis center in Yugoslavia. Later, she established the Heather Mills Trust to raise money for young disabled victims of war and provide artificial limbs for land mine victims.

In 1994, she took a convoy of donated prosthetic limbs to Croatia, and later did similar work in Cambodia. The recipient of several humanitarian achievement awards, she campaigns for a ban on land mines and counsels amputees.

Mills was married briefly in 1989. In 1999, she had been due to marry documentary cameraman Chris Terrill, but two weeks before the date of the wedding the ceremony was called off.

On the Net:

The Beatles: www.thebeatles.com/

Paul McCartney: www.mplcommunications.com/mccartney/index.htm

Heather Mills: www.heathermills.org/