30 April 1998 Edition
Military fist tightens in Bessbrook
By Deirdre Feehan
The village of Bessbrook in South Armagh has seen an increase in harrassment of the local people by the British army in recent weeks.
Many residents have filed complaints to the RUC but nothing has happened. If anything, the situstion has worsened. The barrier in the High Street area is closed from 8pm to 8am and at other times there is a permanent checkpoint.
Speaking to An Phoblacht, a High Street resident claimed that he is harrassed by the British army on a daily basis, ``my home is only 30 yards from the barrier yet anytime I drive into High Street, I am stopped, asked to produce my licence and the hood and bonnet of my car are opened and searched.''
Bessbrook is one of the most heavily militarised areas in the north, many roads are permantly closed, there are many permanent checkpoints and there are more than 24 security cameras.
Residents claim that since the publication of the Good Friday document, the harrassment has worsened. Residents are now also stopped leaving the area and on many occasions ambulances have had to take a mile and a half detour to reach the High Street area because of the barrier.
Residents are holding a protest this Saturday at 4pm, and called for the support of the local people, ``We the people of the area challenge the RUC to tell us where there is security like this in the north of Ireland?''
South Armagh residents meet Ahern
By Michael Pierse
A delegation from the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee met Bertie Ahern on Wednesday morning and were told that their concerns would be represented to Tony Blair at the first available opportunity.
Committee chairperson Declan Fearon expressed dismay at the fact that there has been ``no change whatsoever'' in British military tactics in South Armagh since the beginning of the ceasefire last July. ``The British Army are still as agressive,'' he said, and pointed to the continuation of harassment, especially of those who dare speak out about the menacing presence of troops in the area.
Local farmer Henry McElroy is one of those to have suffered most at the hands of British Army manouvres in South Armagh. Over 50 of his sheep were stampeded through wire bordering one of his fields by low flying British army helicopters. He spoke emotionally of the cruelty caused to his animals; five of his sheep were killed in the incident and 17 lambs were aborted due to the stress induced by the army incursion. An average of three animals per week are still being killed directly as a result of the military agression in South Armagh.
Toni Carragher, the committee's secretary, spoke of the flagrant waste of £1.45 billion that was the expenditure budget on crown force activities in the north for the 1997/'98 peroid, while health, educational and social facilities are grossly underfunded. There are a total of 31 look-out posts and five extensive British Army/RUC military bases in the 20 mile radius of South Armagh. Helicopter activity is persistent, with an average of approximately 187 flights into each post per month. At Glassdrummond alone there have been 87 flights since the Good Friday agreement and 1,864 flights since last July's ceasefire. The rampant TB situation in the area has been facilitated by British Army foot patrols carrying the infection from farm to farm.
Local undertaker Michael McConville's livelihood has not emerged unscathed. Funeral proceedings are disturbed on a weekly basis by the overbearing noise of helicopters hovering directly overhead. He said this is ``very disturbing to the relatives.''
Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin, who arranged and hosted the meeting with An Taoiseach revealed that many more farmers are ``intimidated into silence.'' five animal killings in the last week were not reported due to such fears.