29 July 2005

Army set to dismantle watch-tower

BBC

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The Army is set to begin dismantling one of its watch-towers

The Army is due to begin dismantling one of its watch-towers in south Armagh in response to the IRA's decision to end its armed campaign.

In an historic statement released on Wednesday, the IRA said it would pursue exclusively peaceful means.

The government has also said it intends to publish an updated programme of security normalisation shortly.

It also intends to introduce legislation in the Autumn to allow paramilitary fugitives to return home.

Disarmament

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has indicated he is ready to push forward with a number of measures which were put on ice after the failure to achieve a breakthrough leading to the restoration of devolution in 2003.

BBC Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport said government ministers would now expect to see "some major acts of disarmament".

"On the political front, there may be a brief lull during August, but discussions are expected to get under way in earnest in September.

"The DUP remains openly sceptical," he said.

"But the government hopes that if the IRA is as good as its word, positive reports from the four-strong commission which monitors paramilitary activity will encourage unionists to seriously engage with republicans sometime early next year."

The IRA statement, released on Thursday, said: "All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means".

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the move was a "courageous and confident initiative" and that the moment must be seized.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said the statement, ending 30 years of violence, was a "step of unparalleled magnitude".

The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, also welcomed the statement and said much hard work was needed.

Mr Hain said a return to devolved government at Stormont would not happen soon.

But - eventually - he would like to see the leader of the Democratic Unionists, the Reverend Ian Paisley, as the first minister.

Mr Paisley himself greeted the IRA statement with scepticism, saying it had "reverted to type" after previous "historic" statements.

"We will judge the IRA's bona fides over the next months and years based on its behaviour and activity," he said.

Ulster Unionist Party Sir Reg Empey, told the BBC's World at One it would take time to convince the people of Northern Ireland that this was more than just rhetoric.

Republicans had been under intense pressure to end IRA activity after the £26.5m Northern Bank raid in December and the murder of Belfast man Robert McCartney in January.

Political talks last year failed to restore devolution, which stalled amid claims of IRA intelligence gathering at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, in 2002.

The Provisional IRA's campaign of violence was aimed at forcing an end to the British presence in Northern Ireland, leading to a united Ireland.


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