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Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 20:18 GMT 21:18 UK
Army bases to be closed
RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan has announced the closure of a number of army installations in Northern Ireland as the peace process regains lost momentum.
He said the scaling down of the army presence was as a result of a security assessment which indicated the threat of paramilitary violence had been reduced.
The assessment has been made by Sir Ronnie and the General Officer Commanding of the army in Northern Ireland following the IRA's weekend pledge on weapons.
The closures were to go ahead despite the ongoing threat posed by dissidents. The week-end's events represent a real lowering of the overall threat, the Chief Constable said.
Subject to continuing reduction in the level of threat, these steps will be followed, within three months, by the demolition of the observation sangar overlooking The Square, in Crossmaglen, he confirmed.
The Chief Constable added that a further review of possible normalisation steps will then be conducted in three months time in light of the security threat prevailing at the time and the circumstances on the ground.
On Saturday the IRA said it was ready to begin a process that would "completely and verifiably" put its weapons beyond use. In response the government began steps to restore a locally elected power-sharing administration by 22 May.
The latest security reductions come at a time when the pro-agreement parties are considering proposals put forward by the British and Irish Governments to inject momentum into the stalled Northern Ireland peace process.
"The changes announced represent another step along this path, while preserving the security forces' capability to meet the remaining threat from whatever quarter.
"But I have always said that the security of the public will continue to be my highest priority and that essential security interests will not be traded for political progress," he said.
The SDLP's deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, said the removal of security installations in Northern Ireland formed an essential part of the Good Friday Agreement and must be dealt with as a priority.
Mr Mallon said the demolition of look-out towers and sangars (observation posts) in areas like south Armagh would not reduce the security forces' ability to defend the community.
"Now we've got at least some type of implementation plan that can deal with this issue."
He said quick, efficient demilitarisation would help convince ordinary people in heavily fortified areas that the peace accord could make a difference in their lives and reasonable unionists would accept that.
"Broad unionism recognises if we are going to create a normal society this issue has got to be dealt with in a way that is compatible with the protection of the community."
Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy,who is an MLA for Newry/Armagh, said he had already noticed a lessening in security in the area but demilitarisation must proceed with caution.
"I think all of these steps have to be taken in a very careful assessment on the ground situation," he said.
"It's clear the Chief Constable is operating on a very cautious basis and very properly so."
"The process of demilitarisation should have begun immediately after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
"Sinn Fein has consistently pressed the British government to honour its commitments on demilitarisation for the past two years. This was obviously a key issue for us in the recent round of negotiations."
'Secret' part of deal
But the justice spokesman for the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party, Ian Paisley Jnr, voiced his anger at the possible removal of military bases.
Mr Paisley said the move was "the tip of the iceberg" of what the Hillsborough agreement really meant.
"The removal of watchtowers, the reduction of British troops all come about in the face of the IRA's continued threat to use violence."
"Most people will be thoroughly disgusted to learn of this secret part of the Hillsborough deal," he added.
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