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UK begins pullback in N. Ireland

Reid said both governments would take necessary steps to resolve the issue  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Work has begun on dismantling security watchtowers in Northern Ireland in recognition of the IRA's decision to disarm.

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid told parliament in London on Wednesday that two watchtowers in south Armagh were being demolished.

Destruction of a British army base in Magherafelt and security installations at Newton-Hamilton would start on Thursday, he added.

His comments confirmed earlier statements made by Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams discusses the IRA's move to disarm (October 24)

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Unionist MP Ken Maginnis says the IRA's move is progress. (October 24)

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Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble announced that his Protestant party's three cabinet ministers in the Northern Ireland unity government formally resumed their offices on Wednesday after saying the Irish Republican Army's move was good enough for him.

The three had resigned last week in protest at the IRA's refusal to disarm. Had they not returned, the deadline for the government to be suspended or collapse would have been Thursday.

Trimble is expected to seek re-election as leader of the government next week.

The IRA decommissioning was also expected to signal the lifting of the ban on Sinn Fein ministers attending north-south meetings.

Reid said in his address to the House of Commons: "First the political institutions ... should now be restored to full operation as quickly as possible and should operate in a stable and uninterrupted way.

"Second we need to press on with the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects."

But he added: "To sustain this will require hard work, steady nerves and the continued ability on all sides to reach out and make difficult compromises."

Reid also said the government would undertake "a progressive rolling programme of security normalisation, reducing levels of troops and installations in Northern Ireland as the security situation improves. Our aim is to secure as early a return as possible to normal security arrangements."

He added that as a "natural development" of the early release scheme the British and Irish governments had accepted that outstanding prosecutions and extradition proceedings for offences committed before April 10 1998 should not be pursued against supporters of organisations on cease-fire.

The IRA's "historic" move, long demanded by Unionists and a condition of the Good Friday peace accord, was announced by the paramilitary group on Tuesday after three decades of violence.

Fears remain over whether other paramilitary groups on both sides of the religious divide will follow suit.

Blair said on London's GMTV: "We obviously have to take into account the threats that still remain from splinter groups and others, but it allows us to make moves in that direction and allows us to get the political process started."

Early indications are that most of the loyalist paramilitary groups and some republican groups will not abide by the spirit of the new breakthrough.

But Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, called on all republicans to unite and help move the peace process forward despite "understandable" reservations among some.

He told CNN he "thought the Real IRA should disband" despite a possible feeling in some groups that "people like myself have sold out on the republican cause."

"I want to give peace a chance."

A British soldier on patrol in Belfast in the wake of the IRA decision to disarm  

Before the IRA move, the only group to surrender any weapons was the Loyalist Volunteer Force, a small outlawed Protestant gang, in December 1998.

The group has since rejected the peace process and resumed violence, most recently being blamed for the killing a Catholic journalist.

David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, which has links with the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, said he had "no evidence at all that the UVF or Red Hand Commando are ready to reciprocate in any way."

Also one of the main Protestant militias, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), announced it would not match the IRA disarmament move by handing in any of its own guns.

Joe Dillon of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, which speaks for the Real IRA, said: "There are other sections of the Republican Army still opposing Britain's presence on the island (of Ireland)."


• IRA decommissioning welcomed
October 23, 2001
• IRA statement on decommissioning arms
October 23, 2001
• Crisis talks to heal N. Irish rift
October 19, 2001
• Reid faces tough N. Irish decision
October 20, 2001
• Unionists quit N.Ireland assembly
October 18, 2001

• Northern Ireland Assembly
• Sinn Fein
• Good Friday Agreement

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