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1 October 1998 Edition

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Anger at ``callous'' MoD

The South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee (SAFRC) was contacted by angry Bessbrook residents on Sunday expressing their ``hurt and dismay'' that 72 hours after the British Ministry of Defence promised to scale down its presence within 36 hours, the only visible sign of progress was the removal of six concrete bollards erected in August this year.

Toni Carragher, SAFRC spokesperson, questioned the motives behind the MoD statement and asked what was the point of raising expectations merely to dash them. She pointed to hopes that the continued 12 hour curfew enforced by the British Army and RUC on residents at Convent Street and High Street would be abandoned.

Ms Carragher said, ``it is obvious to the people of South Armagh that the British government do not wish to vacate their military training ground, which would also lead to the closure of their self-made multi-million pound industry.''

Meanwhile, following two meetings with the SAFRC, the South Armagh Tourism Initiative (SATI) has agreed to highlight concerns about the detrimental effect on tourism which the massive British and RUC military presence is having in the Newry and Mourne District Council area.

Welcoming the SATI commitment, Ms Carragher said she looked forward to future co-operation with the body in order to address the current situation, including ``the persistent British Army/RUC foot patrols, the lookout posts that dot our beautiful countryside, the continuous British Army helicopter traffic''.

She also highlighted the impact of the continued British Army/RUC presence on the everyday lives of people from South Armagh.

She said, the extremely high levels of bovine TB in the area had been ``categorically'' linked to the constant foot patrols and land being used as helicopter landing pads. The risks from the spread of TB and potential financial ruin faced by local farmers is compounded by the huge cost to farmers of having thousands of livestock killed and seriously injured through the years by the actions of the crown forces.

Ms Carragher also highlighted the consequences for the long term health of locals caused by crown force activity.

Recent studies have concluded that both long term and high level/short term exposure to helicopter fuel fumes is neurotoxic. It has been shown that the fuel fumes may produce neurological deficits, resulting in ataxic gait, headaches, nausea, reduced attention span, sensory motor dysfunction and liver toxicity.

Ms Carragher highlighted the daily disruption of classrooms and the disruption at funerals caused by low flying British Army helicopters.

She added, ``the milions of pounds allocated to the `security' expenditure budget each year should be more wisely distributed to housing, education, health - with the Daisyhill Hospital again threatened with closure.''

``It is not an offence to try and legitimise our Nationalist aspirations but it is offensive to have our Nationalist aspirations quelled by the British government in the form of their Army and the current RUC force,'' said Ms Carragher.

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