IRA hardens stance on peace process

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OMINOUS RUMBLINGS from the republican movement yesterday emphasised that the Northern Ireland peace process is in trouble, with an increasingly confrontational stance from both Sinn Fein and the IRA.

Security sources admit they are baffled by the exact state of play within the higher reaches of the IRA, which announced on Wednesday night that it was withdrawing its offer of full arms decommissioning.

While there is no sign of that the IRA is considering a return to conflict, relations between republicans and the British and Irish governments have chilled since the pounds 26m Belfast bank robbery, last December, which both London and Dublin blame on the IRA. Sinn Fein and the IRA deny involvement.

This week's IRA statement declared: "We do not intend to remain quiescent within this unacceptable and unstable situation. It has tried our patience to the limit. We are taking all our proposals off the table."

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, said yesterday he had told both Tony Blair and the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, that "confrontation is not the way forward - otherwise the peace process could be as transient as Mr Blair's time in Downing Street".

Further exchanges are expected next week with the publication of a report by the Independent Monitoring Commission, which examines paramilitary activity. It is expected to repeat the robbery charge against the IRA and recommend sanctions against Sinn Fein.

Northern Ireland's Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, said he did not believe the IRA statement meant a return to wider violence: "We know they have the capacity. We know they have the capability. I am currently of the view that they do not have the intent. I do not think the statement changes that. But I also make the point that this is an organisation that still exists, is well organised and has not gone away."

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