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Sunday, 17 December, 2000, 18:09 GMT
Fracas during watchtower protest
Army watchtower in south Armagh
Removal of army watchtowers is divisive issue
Police have said a number of their officers and two soldiers were assaulted during a protest by about 30 people at an army watchtower in south Armagh.

A spokesman said police struck two people with batons in Sunday afternoon's incident.

The removal of army fortifications in the region is one of the issues in the ongoing political impasse in the peace process.

Sinn Fein are calling for the removal of watchtowers in order to increase normalisation.

Secretary of State Peter Mandelson, under pressure from unionists, says the fortifications will only be removed when there is no longer any security threat.

The RUC spokesman said one of the soldiers suffered a cut to his lip while the other trooper is suffering from concussion.

He added, that, at one stage, a baton was removed from an officer and that police were kicked and assaulted.

He said that security would be reviewed as a result of the incident in which minor damage was caused to the watchtower.

The Sinn Fein President has said the looming political crisis in Northern Ireland has resulted from the government's refusal to honour its promises.

Gerry Adams told a commemoration in south Armagh for four IRA men killed while on so-called "active service" in the 1970s that the British government's failure to honour its commitments was undermining the peace process.

"It is the British government's failure to implement the commitments it made on 5 May at Hillsborough that has created the current crisis," the West Belfast MP said on Saturday night.

"It has also provided David Trimble with the political space in which to seek the suspension of the Agreement while trying to foist the blame on republicans."

The Sinn Fein leader said the IRA's handling of the process had been "courageous and forward-looking" and that its August 1994 ceasefire had prepared the groundwork for the process.

Solider dismantling the observation post
A number of fortifications have already been dismantled.
Mr Adams also praised the paramilitary group for taking initiatives to advance the peace process, saying IRA had saved it in May from collapse as a consequence of "bad British policy and unionist intransigence".

On 5 May the IRA offered to allow some of its weapons dumps to be inspected by international inspectors, as a confidence building measure at the start of a process of putting their guns "verifiably beyond use".

But the offer was made as part of an overall package from the British and Irish governments on progressing implementation on all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement - including those on demilitarisation and police reform.

Crossmaglen sanger
Crossmaglen sanger: Demolished but more is needed say Sinn Fein
Mr Adams said the government had reneged on the programme for scaling down military fortifications in the province.

Republicans must see the benefits of the peace process in their own areas if it is going to succeed, he said.

He said the government had not carried out promises to demolish bases in south Armagh and that helicopter flights and army patrols were continuing in the area.

"Here, in south Armagh, there is another very public manifestation of British failure to keep to the deal it made with the IRA. Where is there any evidence of demilitarisation in this area?" he said.

"It is clear that the peace process has made little substantial difference to improving the quality of life for people in this area. Indeed, many can legitimately argue that the circumstances have worsened.

"If the peace process is to succeed, if politics is to be seen to be working, if the current crisis is to be overcome, then the people of this area, like those Fermanagh and Tyrone, must see in-your-face change."

Mr Adams said that the present government handling of policing reforms in the province was further evidence of British bad faith.

Gerry Adams: Critical of government handling of process
Sinn Fein has rejected the Police NI Act, passed through parliament on 21 November, as being an acceptable blueprint for creating a new police service which would be acceptable to the whole community.

The party has said it will not nominate members to the new Police Board to which the new police service will be accountable.

Mr Adams' attack on the government's handling of the peace process came after Northern Ireland First Minister and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble appealed to US President Clinton to put pressure on republicans to disarm, when he visits the province on 13 December.

Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, the Social Democratic and Labour Party deputy leader has said that he has received new assurances from the government that there could still be movement towards the nationalist position on the government's implementation plan for policing.

This would anger the Ulster Unionists, who have warned the SDLP against attempting to gain further concessions on policing.

The paramilitary arms, demilitarisation and policing issues are all threatening to destabilise the political process.

The British and Irish governments are currently trying to formulate a package to avert another crisis, against an unofficial deadline of about 15 December following US President Clinton's visit.

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See also:

02 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
NI policing plan 'being revised'
02 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble appeal for Clinton support
30 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton may get new peacemaker role
02 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Devolution's turbulent year
10 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Mixed reaction to security move
02 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
Army posts being removed
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