Hong Kong forces withdrawal outlined

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Indy Politics
THE Government yesterday set out its plans for the withdrawal of British forces from Hong Kong by 30 June 1997, when the colony reverts to Chinese control. The Hong Kong Police will have complete responsibility for internal security by 1995. But with 3,000 service personnel, Hong Kong will remain Britain's second largest overseas garrison after Cyprus until 1997, writes Christopher Bellamy.

There are about 6,000 forces personnel in Hong Kong, plus 2,700 local civilians. This will fall to 3,000 service staff in the last two years: an infantry battalion group, plus support, three naval patrol craft and Royal Navy helicopters. The Navy's main role will remain to prevent smuggling and intercept illegal immigrants.

Jeremy Hanley, the armed forces minister, said in a Commons written answer that the First Battalion, the Black Watch would be withdrawn in late 1994 and the two Gurkha battalions remaining in Hong Kong would merge to form the 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles. That battalion will remain in Hong Kong until late 1996 when it will be replaced by a UK battalion.

The merger of the two Gurkha battalions in Hong Kong will leave three Gurkha battalions: the others will be based in the UK and Brunei.

The Hong Kong garrison has been shrinking for some years as the external threat has reduced - in 1987 it was 12,000. The Ministry of Defence said the plans were designed to ensure an 'orderly withdrawal and a stable transition period'. The Chinese government, it said, would be kept informed. Sites in Hong Kong to be occupied by the Chinese army were 'yet to be agreed'.

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