UK scales down N. Irish security
BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The Army says it will destroy more military installations in Northern Ireland in response to the Irish Republican Army's decision to put some of its weapons "beyond use."
Some of the observation posts were dismantled on Wednesday as the British government moved quickly to deliver a positive response to the IRA initiative.
Other aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, such as reforming the region's largely Protestant police force, are also expected to be put into effect soon. Ulster Unionist ministers in the Stormont Executive are also due to return to work on Thursday -- almost a week after they walked out.
Enterprise Minister Sir Reg Empey, Culture Minister Michael McGimpsey and Environment Minister Sam Foster were reinstated by UUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble on Wednesday
Their return to office follows confirmation by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning that the IRA had honoured a commitment to put its weapons beyond use.
Work began immediately on the demolition of two mountaintop lookout posts in Camlough in the republican heartland of south Armagh.
For decades the scaffolding watchtowers, bristling with high tech cameras, antennae and razor wire, served as the Army's eyes and ears.
The dismantling of an observation post at neighbouring Newtownhamilton police station and an army base at Magherafelt, Co Londonderry, are due to start on Thursday.
While Catholics are overjoyed at the dismantling, for Protestants the towers served as a comforting reminder of Britain's continuing support and protection.
Thelma Johnston, the mother of the last Royal Ulster Constabulary officer killed by the IRA, said it was too early to say whether republican gangs, such as the one suspected of killing her son, could be trusted.
"David's killers came from south Armagh, and as far as I am concerned it is too soon to talk about taking down the bases," Johnston told the Times newspaper.
Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid has pledged to introduce a progressive rolling programme of security normalisation, reducing troop levels and military installations as the paramilitary threat diminished.
He is also expected to bring forward further police reform legislation, review criminal justice as well as honour human rights and equality measures.
Reid, in an address to the House of Commons, said: "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."
Trimble will also put his name forward in the Northern Ireland Assembly seeking his old job as First Minister if he gets the backing of his party's 110-member policy-making executive on Saturday.
The two independent inspectors who examined the IRA's secret dumps as part of a confidence-building process have also stepped down following decommissioning.
Cyril Ramaphosa of the African National Congress and Martti Ahthisaari, the former Finnish president, welcomed the IRA's historic move and said they were no longer needed now that the process had started.
No details of the actual form of decommissioning have been disclosed, but it is believed a substantial, but unspecified, quantity of guns, ammunition and explosives were destroyed in the two secret dumps where they were hidden.
RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan said the IRA's decision to disarm was as close as the organisation had ever come to demonstrating its war was over.
He told the Press Association: "I think their war can be over. To say that it is definitively over would be just a step too far at this stage."
But he added: "Anyone who knows the history of violent Irish republicanism knows that the decision to take this step is much more important and significant than the amount of material actually affected by the decision.
"Therefore, we are certainly the closest yet, in my estimation, to saying that the war waged by the Provisional IRA is over."
Fears remain, however, over whether other paramilitary groups on both sides of the religious divide will follow suit.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "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."
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."
UK begins pullback in N. Ireland
October 24, 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
IRA decommissioning welcomed
October 23, 2001
Unionists quit N.Ireland assembly
October 18, 2001
Good Friday Agreement
Northern Ireland Assembly
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