British troops reappeared on the streets of Belfast yesterday in what was described as a precautionary measure after the ending of the IRA ceasefire.
Although only a small number were involved, the move was seen as both ominous and symbolically highly charged, suggesting that security forces anticipate a renewal of IRA activity in the city.
Military operations were progressively wound down in the months that followed the August 1994 cessation of IRA violence, to the point where the sight of troops on the streets had become a rarity. The pattern of RUC policing had also taken on a more relaxed character. But with the ending of the IRA ceasefire, more precautions are being taken, for example with the reissue of flak jackets to police officers.
Yesterday some troops were to be seen on streets in the Old Park area of north Belfast in joint Army and RUC patrols. An Army spokesman said they were part of "occasional low-key local security patrols to protect bases", describing them as "purely a prudent security move to ensure security".
Military sources said there would be patrols around security bases, but widespread patrolling and the mounting of vehicle checkpoints were not planned.
In London last night, a new haul of bomb-making equipment was found buried in the garden at the London home of the IRA terrorist who died in the Aldwych blast last Sunday.
Anti-terrorist officers, who have been searching a flat in a house in Lewisham, south-east London, since they raided it on Monday morning, recovered a "substantial'' amount of items, including several explosive timers. They had already found more than 20lb of Semtex explosives and enough equipment for at least six devices.
Houses close to 117 George Lane, where the terrorist, Edward O'Brien, 21, lived, were evacuated but residents were allowed back last night. Officers believe the flat was used as a "factory'' to produce the two Semtex devices that were left in London recently.
Although there have been a number of bomb scares in Belfast, no actual attacks have followed the London bombings.
Welcoming the reappearance of the troops, the Democratic Unionist MP the Rev William McCrea said: "I trust we will see the gloves taken off if they start to shoot and bomb - there must be no pussy-footing around. We have to get the nest of vipers.''
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