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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
Demolition of last towers begins
Helicopter at work on watchtower removal
The watch tower at Jonesborough is one of those being removed
Work has begun on removing the last British army watchtowers in south Armagh, the military has said.

The removal of the towers was announced in August 2005, as part of the security normalisation process.

Dismantling the five towers on Camlough Mountain, Jonesborough Hill and Croslieve Hill began on Monday.

The hilltop sites will be returned to greenfield status and a "blue light" emergency services radio mast will remain on Croslieve Hill.

The sangars - fortified defence posts - on top of the towers will be removed by RAF Chinook helicopter and Army engineers have been preparing the sites.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said the work was "yet another tangible demonstration of the transformed security situation in Northern Ireland".

"Their removal, as part of an ongoing process of security normalisation, is an important step in giving a fresh start to these communities in moving away from the shadow of conflict and towards an open and prosperous future," he said.

Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy
There was frustration that it was taking so long, that the British government or military were dragging their feet on the issue - but people are happy to see it happening now
Conor Murphy

Ulster Unionist assembly member Danny Kennedy said the move was an attempt to create "mood music" in aid of the prime minister's visit later this week.

"There is still a significant level of threat posed by dissident republicans and feel the government really has no excuse to continue in the manner they are progressing," he said.

Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy said the community would be relieved to see an end to the military presence.

"There was frustration that it was taking so long, that the British government or military were dragging their feet on the issue," he said.

"But people are happy to see it happening now."

However, Fermanagh and South Tyrone DUP assembly member Arlene Foster said the move was "premature and flawed".

Digger on hill among watchtowers being dismantled
The moves are part of the end of the Army's support role for police
"At a time when criminality is rampant along our border, a common sense approach would dictate that security should be maintained rather than scaled-down," she said.

Eight towers have already been dismantled since December 1999 on Sturgan Mountain, Camlough Mountain, Glassdrumman, Cloghoge, Tievecrom, Sugerloaf Hill, Creevekeeran and Drummuckavall.

At present there are just over 9,000 troops in the province, but that will be reduced to no more than 5,000 by 1 August 2007.

The moves are part of the end of Operation Banner, the Army's support role for the police during the Troubles.

It has been running for 35 years and is the longest operation in British army history.

It will end on 1 August next year.


SEE ALSO:
Troop withdrawal plan published
28 Mar 06 |  Northern Ireland
Demilitarisation moves announced
01 Aug 05 |  Northern Ireland
Demilitarisation plans reaction
01 Aug 05 |  Northern Ireland
Watchtower demolition is halted
24 Oct 05 |  Northern Ireland


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