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4 March 1999 Edition

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Growing support for demilitarisation

by Padraig MacDabhaid

As the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee (SAFRC) return from a highly successful tour of the United States the Celtic League has approached the British and Irish governments to highlight concerns about the british military presence in South Armagh.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew has highlighted the economic problems caused by British military policy and called for the British government to rebuild all border bridges destroyed by the British army over the years.

Gildernew said: ``Bridges connecting the Six and Twenty Six Counties were demolished by the British Army during the last 27 years and it is the responsibility of the British government to begin a programme of rebuilding as a matter of urgency.

``These bridges are a necessity for the economic and social regeneration of the border region. Demilitarisation is not just a case of removing a few checkpoints and road ramps. It must include a comprehensive programme of work to replace these bridges and upgrade the infrastructure in order to assist and encourage the development of the all-Ireland aspects of the Good Friday Agreement''

The SAFRC tour in the United States was led by chairperson Declan Fearon and Secretary Toni Carragher. Declan Fearon covered Dallas to Kansas City, Omaha, St Louis and Nebraska speaking at public engagements and attending several live television interviews. Meetings were also held with US government officials in other areas of the midwestern US.

Toni Carragher covered New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Richmond, Charlottesville in Virginia, Hartford and Boston. Venues which were included on this leg were Universities and public speaking engagements while she also met various Congressmen. Toni Carragher also held a meeting with Kathleen O'Toole who is on the Independent Policing Commission at the University of Boston.

Their highly successful tour saw public venues with crowds in the hundreds express shock as they heard for the first time the details of the ongoing military build-up in South Armagh, despite the Good Friday Agreement and the Peace Process.

Now US government officials, legislators and Irish Community organisations have expressed their desire to come to South Armagh and see the situation for themselves.

Toni Carragher said: ``All in all, the we found this tour to be extremely successful and positive for the campaign and are very encouraged by the support and interest that has been shown by American audiences, and are looking forward to seeing international observers and participation in the campaign to have South Armagh demilitarised, particularly from Congressmen Peter King, Joe Crawley, Ben Gilman and Barney Frank, who have pledged their support and assistance.

Meanwhile the Celtic League, which has supported calls from the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee for the dismantling of the military facilities and the normalisation of the situation in the area, also raised the issue of the pollution which goes hand in hand with these facilities.

The group published a report in 1994 entitled ``Britain's Military, Not So Green'' which addressed concerns about ground and water course pollution around bases in Six Counties, England, Scotland and Wales.

The report focused on Bessbrook in South Armagh as a polluted site and after initial denials the English government were forced to concede that the report's findings were true.

Today they are still highlighting the pollution problems with a particular focus on the dangers posed to health by radiation emissions from electronic equipment used by the British military. Their research has lead them to the conclusion that the best solution is for all military installations to be dismantled.

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