British army bases `to close'

Two military bases in the North are to close, it was announced last night, although no date was set for the closures.

The British Army barracks at Aughnacloy will be removed, according to the PSNI police. An installation at Clooney in County Derry is also to be closed and sold to the British government.

PSNI chief Hugh Orde said: ``This is a joint decision which has been taken by the Army and the police service after careful consideration. It is essentially prudent housekeeping and we believe that it will allow for the most efficient use of military resources.''

Sinn Fein assembly member Michelle Gildernew last night accused the government of ``rationalisation, not demilitarisation''.

She said that the continuation of an army base in nearby Clogher meant that the closure of Aughnacloy would have little impact on troop levels, in an area in which people had been ``the victims of an upsurge in British army harassment in recent times''.

RURAL SIEGE ENDS

Meanwhile, a massive eight-day ``security alert'' by the British Army has ended with nothing being found.

The operation at Ardboe on the shores of Lough Neagh started on February 2.

The area was saturated by British troops and people were prevented by the PSNI from entering the area on business unless they were residents.

Farmers and fishermen complained about damage to their land, livelihoods and property during the alert.

The British Army claimed there was ``suspicious activity'' in the area on the afternoon of February 1 and that the security operation had begun the next day.

Sinn Fein Mid Ulster assembly member Martin McGuinness said he was raising the ``unacceptable'' disruption with the British government.

``No explanation was given by either the PSNI or the British Army as to the reason behind this operation involving hundreds of troops and PSNI with digging equipment... Ten years into cessations and five years after the Agreement it is totally unacceptable that communities continue to be subjected to this type of heavy handed militarisation.''

British officials denied that the operation had been a training exercise, describing the search as a ``rural rummage''.

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