A bid by dissident republicans to attack a police helicopter near the Irish border may have been foiled, it has emerged.
The alert, near the village of Cullyhanna, has been continuing for several days and involves soldiers with sniffer dogs.
It will be Thursday at the earliest before the area has been cleared and follows what may have been an attempt by dissidents opposed to the peace process to down a helicopter.
Troops have also been scouring the hedgerows and culverts with metal detectors in the massive security operation close to the border with the Irish Republic.
A PSNI spokesman said: “Police can confirm that the suspicious object found in the Bog Road/Lisleitrim Road area of Cullyhanna is a mortar type device. Army Technical Officers are continuing to examine and make safe the device.”
The finger of suspicion has been pointed at republican dissidents, who have been responsible for the murders of two soldiers, two police officers and a prison guard in recent years.
The device was planted upright surrounded by vegetation in a field, and could have been used to attack a PSNI helicopter.
Two dark-coloured tubes, around 10ft long and resembling domestic drain piping, were observed at the scene.
Police guarded a rural approach road within sight of a white-washed house and a dull thud was heard as the device was detonated by a military robot.
Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy described the discovery as distressing. He said: “I am concerned at both the capability and the intent of those sinister elements behind this attack and it simply reinforces how important it is that local people give total support to the police and provide them with every assistance possible as they attempt to protect and serve the entire community.”
Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin also condemned those responsible. He praised the work of the police and Army and said: “There is obviously a speculation that dissident republicans are behind this and we have seen before the intent and capability of these groups intent on dragging us back to violence.
“Such a device has the potential to be devastating and we must be thankful that it has been discovered before any attempt to use it.”
Dominic Bradley of the SDLP branded those responsible for placing the mortar as reckless and irresponsible.
He said: “The people of Cullyhanna, south Armagh and indeed the people of this island want to be left in peace. Instead those responsible still live in some warped existence of the past.’
“There is palpable anger in the local community. This community don’t want this level of disruption as they go about their everyday lives.”