Slow progress on demilitarisation
Slow progress on demilitarisation

The British Army has dashed hopes that five military spytowers in south Armagh are to be taken down.

Reports at the weekend had indicated that the notorious border installations would be removed as a confidence-building measure for republicans.

Under the ‘normalisation’ programme unveiled last summer, it was announced that the towers were to be demolished. However, British military officials have now said there is “no firm timetable” for the dismantling of the watchtowers.

An army 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.”

The watchtowers which are to be dismantled are situated on three hilltops at Crotlieve near Forkhill, Camlough Mountain and Faughill Mountain.

The British Army began dismantling a number of bases in south Armagh, Derry and Belfast after the IRA said it had ended its armed campaign in July last year.

However, it has been confirmed that levels of British troops in Ireland are about to drop to their lowest level in 30 years.

The Royal Welch Fusiliers, based in Bessbrook on the south Armagh border, are starting to pull out and will be gone before the end of the week.

Their departure will see troop levels in the North fall below 9,000.

Commenting on the reduction, Sinn Féin Assembly member for Newry & Armagh and the party spokesperson on demilitarisation Davy Hyland said any reduction was obviously a welcome development.

“However it says much about the attitude of the generals in Whitehall that 11 years after the first IRA cessation 9,000 British soldiers still remain in Ireland,” he added.

“The British government knows it has to deliver on demilitarisation and a welcome start was made in the months after the historic initiative by the IRA last July. However much more needs to be done.

“In addition to the removal of British troops from Ireland and returning them to their bases in England, the remainder of the British war machine in Ireland needs to be dismantled including the forts and spy posts and equally significantly the structures which were used to murder citizens through the control and manipulation of the loyalist death squads need to be removed.”

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© 2006 Irish Republican News