DRUMCREE 2001: SHADOW OF IRA REBELS STILL HANGS OVER ORANGE PARADE; Police fear new attack on troops by dissidents.
SECURITY forces in the North were last night preparing for a possible Real IRA attack as the tension before today's Drumcree parade builds.
There are fears that the dissident republican group will use the marching season to launch mortar or gun attacks on police and British army reinforcements, some of whom are in tents within military barracks in flashpoint areas.
The massive military presence in Portadown is as much an effort to combat the dangers from republicans as the threat of a loyalist backlash to the Drumcree parade ban.
A security source said last night: "It is a real fear at this time, that republicans would use the marching season to attack troops or police.
"When there is a march or a protest, there is police also and they are almost sitting targets but we are on full alert."
As dawn broke yesterday, the picturesque fields around Drumcree church in Portadown, Co Armagh, became a military fortification.
In the early hours of the morning hundreds of soldiers and RUC officers erected a ring of steel ahead of today's contentious Orange parade.
By first light the massive security was underway as a convoy of heavy military vehicles moved into the fields and there are now thousands of troops and police in and around Portadown.
Security sources say they do not expect the protests to attract the same numbers as previous years and tensions yesterday weren't as high as they would normally be before the parade.
The man in charge of the security operation, RUC Assistant Chief Constable Stephen White said that while he "hoped for the best" he also had to "prepare for the worst".
And the RUC's Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said he is hopeful that there will not be serious trouble.
He added: "The intelligence at our disposal indicates that the mainstream loyalist organisations do not intend to get involved in this thing organisationally and that's to be welcomed.
"Certainly, on the eve of Drumcree we're in a better position this year than we have in many years in the past but that's not to say we should be complacent.
"We've made all our preparations. But with good sense prevailing in the way that it has thankfully over recent days, we can get through this situation without major difficulty."
Earlier, as the 30-truck convoy made its way along the Garvaghy Road, it came under attack from nationalists youths.
At least 20 army vehicles were damaged by stones and other missiles but there were no reports of injuries.
Throughout the morning British army engineers, supported by soldiers from the Parachute Regiment, constructed a series of waist-high wire entanglements several metres deep, stretching across the area from the church towards the Dungannon Road.
Mechanical diggers widened the draining ditch in front of the wire and sandbagged the culvert running under the bridge at Drumcree, creating an artificial water barrier.
Army tractors also ploughed up a strip of land in front on the Drumcree side of the ditch.
Large steel containers, weighted down by concrete barriers and topped with barbed wire, have been welded together and placed across the road at the bridge forming a barrier preventing the Portadown Orangemen from entering the prohibited area of the Garvaghy Road.
The roadway directly behind the barricade has been screened off from view by large corrugated iron sheeting.
Army engineers have installed a series of portable arc lights and generators in the fields behind the wire entanglements.
The whole area in front of Drumcree is scanned by a number of high-tech surveillance cameras that will transmit pictures of the parade and any protests that might follow directly into a special RUC operations room located nearby.
Behind the main fortifications, the army has set up a temporary field hospital complete with Saxon armoured cars identified by a Red Cross symbol. In the same area there is an army field kitchen.
A number of military barriers have been constructed at the upper and lower end of the Garvaghy Road itself.
Wire and concrete fortifications run along the Dungannon Road in front of St John the Baptist Catholic Church and the adjoining graveyard.
Further wire entanglements have been constructed in the fields nearby.
At the interface area of nationalist Craigwell Avenue and the loyalist Corcrain estate, the security forces have erected another steel barrier.
Close by at the entrance to Obins Street, concrete barriers and metal gates control the movement of vehicles and personnel from the nationalist area.
Access control points have been established at the junction of Obins Street and Woodhouse Street, leading to Portadown town centre.
The waste ground in front of the nationalist housing estate at Ballyoran heights has also been cordoned off with wire and concrete.
RUC officers and units of the British army, including the Parachute and Royal Welch Fusiliers Regiments, man all the fortifications.
Other military logistical and support units are located close at hand at Mahon Barracks, Portadown. Helicopter support is available at the Mahon.
Thousand of Orangemen and their supported are expected to take part in this morning's parade to Drumcree.
DEFENCES: Soldiers from the Parachute Regiment put up barbed wire fences yesterday; ON GUARD: Troops on patrol yesterday yards from Drumcree church, above. A child plays close to a crouching soldier, left; DEFIANT: Unionist boss David Trimble