British withdraw second batch of troops from Ulster
From Europe Editor DAVID WALLEN in London
THE British Government yesterday attempted to keep up the momentum of the peace initiative in Northern Ireland by announcing the withdrawal of a further 400 troops.
The men of 40 Field Regiment, the Royal Artillery, will be withdrawn over the next two weeks, continuing the running down of troop strength in the province after the first withdrawal of 400 last month.
The gunners were originally due to return to their normal role with NATO in Germany in July.
Street patrols by the army were withdrawn last month after IRA and loyalist paramilitaries continued to honour the seven-month-old cease-fires.
Yesterday's move, announced by Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew, is a mark of faith in the peace process developing. He said the men would be leaving as a result of the improving security situation although he stressed that they could be returned.
The move means there will be 17,500 troops still based in the province, including some men of the locally recruited Royal Irish Regiment. Six of the units remaining in the province are due to stay for two years and four for six months.
Ken Maginnis, a spokesman for the Ulster Unionists, said he did not think there would be any further withdrawals in the near future. 'I don't expect now that arrangements will be made that any further battalions will be withdrawn in the foreseeable future,' he said.
'That means until the temporary cease-fire becomes a great deal more permanent and other issues are dealt with in a positive manner.' Seven more IRA terrorists are due to be given early release from Portlaoise prison in Dublin today.