Cat and mouse game being played over border roads

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The Independent Online
'IT'S HARD to keep track,' an RUC spokesman said ruefully. 'The border roads are being opened up and closed again so quickly but Sinn Fein appears to be stepping up its campaign.'

At the weekend Albert Reynolds appealed to John Major to start an organised reopening of the roads along the 200-mile border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. But an impatient Sinn Fein is pressing ahead with its own illegal road reopening, despite strong opposition from Unionists, who claim it is heightening tension in already divided border communities.

This weekend Sinn Fein supporters, armed with shovels and the occasional mechanical digger, worked through the night to reopen three crossings in Fermanagh and Londonderry. In what has become a well-established ritual since the ceasefire, the Army and police moved in during daylight hours to seal them up again. It is a game of cat and mouse. At Lenmore Road, near Londonderry, protesters reopened the border road on Saturday. Police then closed it. Protesters returned on Sunday to have another go.

For Sinn Fein it is part of a new, two-pronged campaign of civil disobedience which also involves protests outside army installations. Opponents say it is the organisation's way of keeping up the spirits of supporters, confused about what exactly has been won, but it is hardly a mass movement. On Sunday a protest at an army installation in Newry attracted 50 people. Few protests have attracted more than 100. 'It's largely symbolic,' one police source said. 'You would only take a tractor or a car you didn't care about on these roads once they are open.'

Unionists are furious at what they see as 'triumphalist' tactics. 'Unionists feel very unsafe,' Jean McVitty, a representaive of Fermanagh council, said. 'And there is justification, for these roads are being illegally reopened. They were closed because terrorists used them to escape after murders. It's far too early to decide whether the ceasefire is permanent.'

Police say they want to avoid confrontation but the border roads will continue to be closed until the British and Irish governments reach some agreement.

A police source said yesterday that the loyalist paramilitary bomb in Dublin proved the border should remain closed even if the IRA held to its ceasefire.