30 July 2005

Watchtowers coming down

Daily Ireland

Zoe Tunney & Áine McEntee

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
click to view - Fort, Newtonhamilton, South Armagh by Jonathan Olley

The British government is intending to publish an updated schedule for further acts of demilitarisation following the IRA’s unprecdented statement to end the armed struggle.
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has refused to state when a formal announcement will be made but well placed sources have indicated it could be as early as Monday of next week.
The British army yesterday started dismantling some of its most notorious outposts in south Armagh less than 24 hours after the IRA announced an end to its armed campaign.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed it was closing and vacating its base in Forkhill, removing one of its observation towers at Sugarloaf Hill near Camlough and removing the ‘super-sangar’ from the PSNI station in Newtownhamilton.
Locals said work on all three sites began yesterday at 9.30am.
For decades, residents living under the scrutiny of the British army surveillance installations have campaigned to have them removed.
Residents have argued the British Army has abused its position and the surveillance equipment to spy on local people.
Campaigners also say they can link the increase in the incidence of cancers in the south Armagh area because of the radio and microwave equipment used by the British Army.
There are eight observation towers on six hilltop sites in south Armagh alone.
The MoD said the decision to remove the bases was part of the normalisation process for the North.
Lieutenant General Reddy Watt, the General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland, said the demilitarisation was taking place at this time because of the IRA’s committment to peace.
He said: “In light of yesterday’s developments, the chief constable and I have decided that a further reduction in security profile is possible.”
An MoD spokesperson would not, however, be pushed on whether the British Army planned future de-militarisation on the back of the IRA statement but confirmed no more military installations had been ear-marked for closure.
“The military situation in Northern Ireland and our role in supporting the PSNI in their security operations is constantly under review,” he said.
He also confirmed the British Army had no plans to pull out of the North completely.
“Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and there is no doubt so long as that is the case there will always be a British Army presence here.
“There will be a peacetime garrison just like every other part of the UK,” the spokesperson said.
There are currently 10,500 military personnel serving in 42 military sites across the north and the MoD said all three bases being pulled down in south Armagh were manned full-time.
Sinn Féin MP for the area, Conor Murphy said: “We’ve been here a couple of times before. The British government have to live up to their side of the bargain.
“This has been 11 years coming, since the IRA’s ceasefire. The landsape has been blighted by the British government for the past 30 years and local people are very keen to see these intallations go."
Mr Murphy said it was imperative that the demilitarisation process was carried out fully and quickly.
He said: “This should have been done in 1998 at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. And it needs to be as front loaded as possible.
“For example we don’t want them to start taking down bits and pieces all over the place, they should be able to move on as many fronts as possible.”

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