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10 August 2000 Edition

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Demilitarise Now

The removal of a British army sangar from the Square in Crossmaglen last week was nothing more than a propaganda stunt. It was a stroke of political deceit designed to give the impression that the British government is prepared to engage in a process of demilitarising South Armagh.



The reality is that the British security agenda still holds sway in South Armagh and along the border in general.

Speaking in Crossmaglen on Wednesday 9 August, the 29th anniversary of the introduction of internment, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams called on the British government to ``grasp the initiative in the peace process by setting out a radical programme to demilitarise the South Armagh area and other parts of the Six Counties''.

He pointed out that in the South Armagh area there are:

5 major military bases;

14 hilltop forts;

31 hilltop spy posts;

Over 3,000 British soldiers and RUC personnel, 1 for every 8 citizens; and

 

Over 200 helicopter flights each month to each hilltop fort and spypost.

To illustrate his point, Adams told journalists that between July 1997 and May 1999, 4,179 flights took place to the Glassdrummond base alone.


There are also hundreds of surveillance and infra-red cameras scattered throughout the area and according to the South Armagh Farmers and Residents' Committee, over 40,000 livestock have been killed since 1994 as a result of low-flying helicopters.

The announcement by the British Minister of Defence at the weekend that none of the land presently occupied by crown fiorces will be handed back to its rightful owners has further reinforced nationalist concerns that it is the securocrats who are still setting the agenda in the Six Counties.

In Derry, the hopes of both nationalist politicians and local business leaders that Fort George British Army base (closed recently) would be used for economic development were dashed when the Ministry of Defence said that land would lie dormant for 12 years before it would be put to use.

Adams pointed out at his press conference that residents are also worried about their safety due to the airworthiness of the British Army's Lynx and Puma helicopters.

``In the past six months there have been three crashes involving these aircraft'', he said.

``If the peace process is to succeed, if politics is to be seen to be working, then the people of South Armagh, Fermanagh and Tyrone must see in your face change. The British government has ten months to complete a process of demilitarisation. Either the securocrats and the generals are in charge or Tony Blair is,'' concluded Adams.

Meanwhile, two Sinn Féin representatives from Monaghan, Noel Keelan and Jackie Crowe, went to inspect the British Army base on Faughil Mountain overlooking County Louth. High-tech surveillance equipment housed in the base is directed mainly into the 26 Counties.

``This equipment is being openly used to spy on the citizens of what in British terms is a foreign country. That is a violation of people's rights,'' the men said.

Both councillors pointed to the high incidence of birth deformities in animals in the area due to the non ionising radiation emitted from all the surveillance equipment and they raised the question as to what threat this holds for the civilian population of the areas where the posts are located.

Over the years, there have been numerous instances of incursions in the 26 Counties by the British Army, the latest occurring just last weekend.

In a series of overflights at the weekend, both Gazelle and Puma helicopters crossed the border in the Tavamore and Ballybinaby areas.

On one occasion, a Puma helicopter landed to pick up a number of British soldiers who were ``clearly in the 26 Counties'', said a spokesperson for the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee, Toni Carragher.
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