16 January 2006

Army towers removal 'making progress'

Belfast Telegraph

By Michael McHugh
16 January 2006

Work to dismantle south Armagh's remaining five watchtowers is making good progress, Sinn Fein said today.

Newry and Armagh Assemblyman Davy Hyland claimed work on dismantling all installations in the border area was "ahead of schedule".

The news follows reports that the work will be completed as early as May of this year, over one year in advance of the end of the normalisation programme.

The Government has pledged to demolish all non-core military sites, including those in south Armagh, by August 2007. Unionists have greeted the programme with unease but Mr Hyland said he welcomed the swift action.

"There is a rolling program of these towers coming down and I think they have made more progress than they anticipated because favourable weather conditions have helped them," he said.

"This brings normalisation back to the area and it shows that progress can be made."

The watchtowers remaining include those on three hilltops at Camlough and Faughill mountains and Crotlieve near Forkhill.

The towers have been in operation since the mid-1980s when Margaret Thatcher ordered their construction to guard against IRA activity in the area.

Progress has been linked to an expected positive report from the Independent Monitoring Commission, which is due to rule soon on the state of the IRA's ceasefire but the Army has denied any firm timetable.

A spokesman said: "Normalisation will be complete when we are left in Northern Ireland with a normal peacetime garrison, which is due by August 1, 2007.

"Come August 1, 2007, we will have no more than 5,000 military personnel in Northern Ireland in no more than 14 core sites across Northern Ireland.

"These core sites do not include the remaining watchtowers in south Armagh.

"But when those watchtowers come down depends on the continuation of enabling circumstances, particularly the security situation."

Unionists have viewed the move as compromising security and raised alarm about continued activity by dissident republicans.

Towers at Cloghogue, Creevekeeran and Drumuckvall have already been decommissioned.

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