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Last Updated: Monday, 4 September 2006, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Demolition begins on symbolic base
Demolition crews are moving into Crossmaglen police and army base to begin dismantling a large part of one of the best known security bases in Northern Ireland. BBC Northern Ireland Home Affairs Correspondent Vincent Kearney reports.

Many Army barracks and police stations have been vacated and demolished in recent years as part of the government's normalisation process, but few have the powerful symbolism of Crossmaglen.

Crossmaglen base
Demolition crews are moving into Crossmaglen police and army base

For more than 30 years, soldiers and police officers based there were tasked with confronting some of the IRA's most deadly units in the heart of south Armagh, an area referred to by many as "Bandit Country" because of its history of lawlessness.

For the security forces, the base in Crossmaglen was a vital part of the war against terrorism. For republicans, it was a blight on the landscape, a symbol of everything they opposed, and they attacked it many times during the Troubles.

The area was considered so dangerous that troops and police officers could not travel by road, and had to be flown in and out by helicopter.

The security base at Newtownhamilton will also close in the next few days, which means there soon won't be any Army presence anywhere in south Armagh.

Many republicans will celebrate the departure of the Army from the Crossmaglen base, portraying it as part of a process of British withdrawal.

But the Army insists it is nothing of the sort - they say the terrorist threat has now been reduced to the point that a military presence at the base, like many others across Northern Ireland, simply isn't needed anymore.

And the police will remain at the base, without military support for the first time in more than 30 years.

Former PM Margaret Thatcher visited the base in 1979
Former PM Margaret Thatcher visited the base in 1979

The withdrawal of the Army from the base is part of the government's normalisation programme in response to the IRA's declared end to its activities.

Operation Banner, the name the Army gave to its support role for the police, will end next August after more than 30 years - the longest running operation in British Army history.

There are currently around 9,000 troops based in Northern Ireland, but by next summer that number will be reduced to no more than 5,000 based in 11 locations.

At the height of the Troubles there were almost 30,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland, based in more than 100 locations.

The latest report by the International Monitoring Commission, which will be made public on Wednesday, is expected to say that the government's timetable for normalisation is on schedule.

The Army's departure from Crossmaglen may be among the most symbolic to date, but it won't be the last.

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01 Aug 05 |  Northern Ireland
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01 Aug 05 |  Northern Ireland
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24 Oct 05 |  Northern Ireland

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