Armagh towers vacated

The army began dismantling some of its watchtowers in South Armagh yesterday, which have long been loathed and resented by nationalists.

The army began dismantling some of its watchtowers in South Armagh yesterday, which have long been loathed and resented by nationalists.

Having released the Shankill bomber, Séan Kelly, hours before the IRA announced it would cease all military activity, this was the first subsequent sign that the government was honouring its side of the bargain by scaling down security in the Province.

But Unionists were furious that military bases were being dismantled so soon after the IRA stated that it would end its armed struggle.

Although a big security reduction was an inevitable consequence of the IRA's declaration, Ian Paisley's hardline Democratic Unionist party (DUP) complained of a "disgraceful pay off" before any "substantive" action from republicans.

The army confirmed that troops would yesterday begin vacating and shutting down a base at Forkhill and a watchtower at Sugarloaf Hill, Camlough. The lookout post at Newtownhamilton police station would also be closed.

Sinn Fein welcomed the news.

Republicans demanding pay back for the IRA's commitment to "peaceful means" will now expect the government to issue a plan for a widespread security scale-down and announce an amnesty for IRA fugitives.

But before that can happen John de Chastelain, the retired Canadian general overseeing decommissioning, will be asked to provide proof that weapons have been destroyed. He is due to meet an IRA representative in the coming days as part of plans to empty arms dumps.

Two clergymen - one Protestant and one Catholic - have been chosen to act as witnesses, but their names have not yet been released. It is understood that the decommissioning will take more than a month to complete.

The government wants to have disarmament out of the way by the autumn, when it hopes to hold fresh talks with political leaders about reviving a power-sharing assembly at Stormont.

Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland secretary, said: "It's up to the IRA to deliver. They will be watched and we will be scrutinising everything. By actively shutting down I don't just mean bullets and bombs, I mean punishment beatings, criminality, and the robbing of banks."

The Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, said Mr Paisley, who has refused face-to-face talks with Sinn Féin while the IRA exists, must now negotiate.

"I believe it's now time for dialogue between us," he said. "It's a matter of whether the DUP has the confidence to enter into that dialogue."


Angelique Chrisafis, Ireland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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