Irish American Information Service

07/21/04 11:07 EST

Twenty-eight British soldiers have been removed from sensitive duties after a document disappeared from high security police complex in Belfast, it was claimed tonight.

Members of the Royal Irish Regiment were withdrawn from security duties at the Castlereagh complex and transferred to Palace Barracks in Holywood, Co Down.

Their duties included manning observation posts in nationalist areas such as Divis Tower in west Belfast.

A security source said: "Some of the soldiers still aren`t cleared and are still in these observation towers. Since this document when missing, 28 have been taken out of there pending a large investigation."

The claims follow the launch earlier this month of a police investigation into the disappearance of a security document from a room at Castlereagh.

It has been alleged that the stolen document contains the names of up to 400 possible paramilitary suspects and may have fallen into the hands of the Ulster Defence Association.

According to the source, B Company of the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment recently took over Op Faction based at Castlereagh.

The source said that last month the counter intelligence company of Joint Support Group Northern Ireland carried out a security inspection of Royal Irish members involved in Op Faction.

The security review found that some of the soldiers had not been cleared to the required level and asked why they were permitted to work in Castlereagh and on observation towers.

The source said: "Due to operational cutbacks, the Royal Irish wouldn`t have had the manpower if they didn`t have these people in here."

An Army spokesman said: "The Royal Irish home service is an integral part of the British Army and is required to conform to the same stringent operational requirements as any other unit. It is essential to the role of the security forces in supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland."

Meanwhile, after a meeting with Sinn Fein today, security minister Ian Pearson confirmed that the document had gone missing from Castlereagh.

He added: "I have confirmed with senior officers in PSNI that there are no indications that material has fallen into the hands of paramilitaries. The police take extremely seriously their duty of care where they have assessed that anyone is in danger. They have demonstrated in the past the lengths that they will go to warn people in these circumstances."

Responding to reports that 28 members of the RIR were withdrawn from duty as part of the investigation into the missing dossier from Castlereagh, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing Gerry Kelly has demanded that the British come clean on this rapidly developing collusion scandal.

Mr Kelly said: "This morning when I met Ian Pearson he refused to answer questions on the involvement or not of the RIR in the missing dossier. It has now emerged that 28 RIR members have been withdrawn from duty as a result of the inquiry. My understanding is that this particular RIR unit were involved in both Castereagh and in manning observation posts in nationalist areas including Divis Tower."

"Given the history of the RIR involvement in collusion with loyalist death squads people will now be in little doubt about the whereabouts of the missing dossier. Is Ian Pearson seriously saying that he was not aware of this when questioned by me this morning."

"The behaviour of the British government has been a disgrace. They have sought to cover-up what is rapidly becoming a major collusion scandal. It is now time for them to come clean. It is also time for them to start informing those people whose details are missing presumed in the hands of loyalists."

"This event has all of the ingredients of a collusion scandal. Missing documents, the involvement of the RIR and a high level attempt at cover-up by the British system," Kelly said.

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