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15 October 1998 Edition

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Andrews to visit South Armagh

The Minister for Foreign Affairs David Andrews has accepted an invitation from the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee (SAFRC) to visit South Armagh. The Minister agreed to the request from the group which campaigns for the demilitarisation of the heavily militarised South Armagh area.

After meeting the Minister in Leinster House on Tuesday SAFRC chairperson Declan Fearon said it had been ``positive and constructive''. He said: ``The Minister was clearly concerned at the daily ordeal of the community in South Armagh as we outlined it to him. His agreement to visit us is a very welcome development.''

The delegation from the SAFRC which met with David Andrews in Leinster House on Tuesday was Declan Fearon (Chair), Toni Carragher (Secretary) and Committee members Peter Carragher and Henry McElroy. They were accompanied by Cavan/Monaghan Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin.

Speaking at a press conference before meeting the Minister Declan Fearon said that the group was returning six months after their meeting with the Taoiseach on 29 April and were ``disillusioned and disappointed''. He continued: ``Feelings are running very high in South Armagh. There has been no improvement in our situation. In fact it has got worse.'' He said the much publicised ``significant reduction'' in security announced by RUC chief Ronnie Flanagan amounted to the removal of some sheets of corrugated iron at Cloghogue and some bollards at Bessbrook.

Toni Carragher outlined the continuing experience of the community in South Armagh with increased British military patrols, refurbishment of spyposts and bases and unceasing helicopter traffic.

Henry McElroy, a farmer, explained how the injury to livestock from helicopter traffic was still a daily reality. All hygiene regulations regarding the spread of TB in cattle are being ignored by foot patrols crossing farmland.

Deputy O Caoláin said that the SAFRC had been to the fore in supporting and promoting the peace process but that their efforts had been frustrated by the refusal of the British government to make any progress on demilitarisation in South Armagh. He said: ``I raised the plight of the people of South Armagh with the British Secretary of State Dr Mo Mowlam at the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body in York on 22 September. I wrote to her on the same day and detailed the continuing lamentable situation in South Armagh with its 33 look-out post and five barracks. I have not yet received a reply.

``On 30 September came an announcement by the RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan that a few posts, most of which had already been abandoned by the British military and RUC, were to be closed or demolished. None of them were in South Armagh. Ronnie Flanagan falsely claimed that there had been ``significant reductions'' in Bessbrook.

``I believe that the lack of progress during these past six months shows that in the heavily militarised area of South Armagh, where the British Army has invested millions in equipment and personnel, the securocrats are dictating the agenda. They are unwilling to lose this valuable training ground and the local community is being forced to pay the price. It is time that these militarists were over-ruled by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. And the Irish government must be seen to push harder both publicly and privately with the British government for the demilitarisation of South Armagh.

``The danger is that the role of those who have done more than their share to build the peace process will be undermined by the obstinacy of the British military authorities and their political masters. The field would thus be left open to opponents of the peace process.''

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