Cold war in Armagh

A marathon Crown force operation has followed the abandonment of a mortar rocket inside a van near the PSNI barracks in Keady in south Armagh on Friday.

Although the device was quickly made safe, some forty local residents who were evacuated from the area were only allowed to return to their homes late yesterday evening. A number of roads in the area remain cordoned off.

Sinn Fein councillor Darren McNally said police should have done more to keep people informed.

“The police have been very slow to get information on to the ground with local people,” he said.

“The community does not know what is happening.”

There was concern in the area that the lengthy operation was linked to efforts by MI5 to gather intelligence on the local community.

The attack came amid claims that undercover British soldiers have been carrying out surveillance in the north of the county.

Republican Sinn Fein said masked men have been carrying out surveillance on two housing estates in Lurgan, County Armagh in recent weeks.

The men, believed to belong to the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, were scouting the areas in white civilian vans.

The presence of SRR soldiers -- formerly known as the 14th Intelligence Unit -- would mark the latest in a series of incidents which has seen the deployment of British troops in the north of Ireland.

“Support for republican resistance is high in Lurgan and Craigavon especially among the young people,” said Martin Duffy, press officer of Republican Sinn Fein in Lurgan.

“So it is not a surprise the Brits and the RUC/PSNI are targeting our areas.”

He said men in boiler suits, armed with rifles and wearing ski masks were spotted climbing out of a white van behind a local youth centre two weeks ago.

“They were not members of the republican movement. Nor were they ordinary police or British soldiers. They wore no uniform or had any badge markings. We believe they were the SRR brought in to intimidate republicans.”

Under the Hillsborough Agreement earlier this month, a new justice minister is to be appointed shortly to manage policing and justice powers transferred from London.

On Thursday, British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward told the Belfast Assembly that MI5 would continue to operate in the Six Counties to retain control of “national [British] security” matters, while a Six County justice minister would only be kept informed of any operations by MI5 and other official British agencies.

eirigi general secretary Breandan Mac Cionnaith described a claim by Woodward that the British government is retaining control of ‘national security matters’ in the Six Counties because of the threat of Al Qaeda as “farcical”.

“The British government has itself admitted that the vast majority of MI5’s operations in the Six Counties are directed against Irish republicans,” he said. “In fact, the resources allocated by MI5 to target Irish republicans has not changed significantly since the early 1990s.

“The British government prepared for the devolution of limited policing and justice powers as far back as 2007 when they stated that, on all matters relating to what they call ‘national security’, the PSNI would be accountable to the British secretary of state, not Stormont.

“This has been the great unmentionable fact of the recent sham negotiations. Stormont is receiving all the powers of a city council.”

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