Armed attack on RUC in day of unrest

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The Independent Online
A REPUBLICAN shooting attack on the RUC, a major IRA weapons find, a loyalist disturbance and a minor political compromise occurred in what proved an extremely eventful 24 hours, from Thursday, in the Northern Ireland peace process.

In the RUC attack, shots were fired at Woodburn station in West Belfast. There were no injuries. In police follow-up activities, eight people were arrested either in cars or in houses and a rifle and a handgun were recovered.

The attack is believed to have been the work of the so-called Continuity IRA, the only republican splinter group which has not declared a ceasefire. Security sources have recently indicated that the group, though comparatively small, had hoped to carry out shootings and bombings.

Indeed, only hours before the shooting, RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan had warned of the possibility of Continuity IRA activity. "They would intend to carry out acts of a variety of natures. There is a risk of them attempting to carry out a bomb attack," Chief Constable Flanagan said.

He added that some members of republican groups such as the INLA and the Real IRA, which was responsible for the Omagh bombing, were co-operating at an "individual level" with the Continuity IRA.

He also said the cease-fires of the major groups were holding but there was no indication they were preparing to de-commission arms. There was evidence all the major organisations were still carrying out "punishment" beatings.

In the Irish Republic, meanwhile, police searching a border area of Co Monaghan discovered a number of heavy weapons which are regarded as among the most dangerous in the IRA's arsenal.

The haul included two heavy guns capable of shooting down helicopters or planes, together with several heavy machine-guns and ammunition. These were among the IRA's most prized weapons because of the threat they posed to army helicopters. A small number of such guns were supplied to the IRA by the Libyan regime in the mid-Eighties.

The authorities will be anxious to clear up lingering doubts that the weapons had made their way to a group such as the Continuity IRA, which would have ambitions to put them to early use.

On the loyalist side of the fence, meanwhile, RUC officers came under attack from Orange Order supporters who aimed fireworks and concrete blocks at them during disturbances on Thursday night.

A number of men yesterday appeared in court on public order charges.

At Stormont, some hectic last-minute activity produced an agreed agenda for Monday's meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

This followed several days of disagreement among the parties on what had been regarded as a fairly routine issue.

Shortly before Christmas, David Trimble's Ulster Unionist party and Seamus Mallon's SDLP had agreed that the proposed new Belfast administration would comprise 10 departments, and had also agreed on some details of new cross-border arrangements. The Unionist party had been concerned that formal agreement to this arrangement by the assembly might trigger off the formation of an executive which would include Sinn Fein.

To avoid this possibility, the assembly will, for the moment, simply be invited to note the agreement rather than formally adopt it.