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Dissident republican gangs force officers from homes

Dissident republicans are forcing police officers in Northern Ireland to leave their homes at a rate of nearly one every month.

Nearly 14 years after the first IRA ceasefire, the risk to individual officers, particularly recently recruited Catholic officers, remains extremely high and the British army continues to be called out regularly to deal with bombs and other suspected explosive devices abandoned by republican terrorists.

The gravity of the threat from Continuity and Real IRA elements was underlined last weekend when a makeshift grenade recovered in Lisnaskea in Co Fermanagh was found to contain the deadly semtex explosive.

And figures released by the Police Service of Northern Ireland show that, between June last year and June this year, some 16 serving officers were advised to leave their homes because of a direct terrorist threat.

Republicans were responsible for 10 of the threats, one was attributed to loyalist paramilitaries, while five came from "undefined" elements.

One former police officer was also warned that his life was at risk and advised to leave his home.

Other evidence also highlights the increased activity by republicans across Northern Ireland over the last year, with British army bomb-disposal experts being called out nearly 20 times a month to assist the PSNI.

An army spokesman said that from the beginning of July last year to the end of last month, ATO (army technical officers) were called out 234 times by the PSNI to deal with suspect objects or to defuse unexploded bombs and other devices.

"Some of those 234 taskings were to deal with a tin of beans jammed in a spout or concealed in an odd place or a replica weapon sometimes, but other requests were to deal with real devices which hadn't exploded but which nevertheless were viable and capable of killing and maiming," one officer said.

Since last October, dissident republicans have attempted to shoot dead PSNI officers, kill officers using an undercar bomb and a landmine and most recently used an improvised grenade containing semtex to mount a potentially morale-sapping attack in Co Fermanagh.

A delegation from the Democratic Unionist Party led by Stormont Minister Arlene Foster will meet the PSNI's Deputy Chief Constable Paul Leighton and the Assistant Chief Constable responsible for rural regions, Judith Gillespie, this week.

Policing board member and former Police Federation Chairman Jimmy Spratt said last weekend's attempted rocket attack on officers in Lisnaskea was a further worrying indication of the high-level threat from dissident republican groups.

"The figures for forced departures from homes and the ATO call-outs are not very comforting. We need reassurances from the PSNI senior command that all is being done to track down these elements, seize their weapons and bring them before the courts. The Lisnaskea attack clearly puts into question the policing strategy in that area and the haste to close bases in Co Fermanagh.

"The chief constable should rethink that strategy until he can assure the public in that border area in particular that the threat from dissident republicans has been substantially reversed," he said.

Belfast Telegraph