IRA splits put peace on the brink

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The Independent Online
THE security forces believe a dangerous new threat to peace in Northern Ireland has developed from a recently emerged and as yet unnamed breakaway republican group with access to IRA technology.

The group is believed to be responsible for a number of attacks, most recently Tuesday night's mortar attack on Forkhill Royal Ulster Constabulary station in south Armagh. The authorities regard it as a serious danger to security in general and to the talks process in particular.

The Forkhill attack and other operations are designed to disrupt the talks, which are now in their final phase. The chairman of the talks, the former US senator George Mitchell, yesterday set a deadline for a deal by 9 April, suggesting that the parties go into continuous session for the previous three nights.

The authorities fear that the period up until then will be punctuated by further attacks emanating both from republicans, including the new grouping, and loyalists such as the renegade Loyalist Volunteer Force.

The new republican grouping is thought to be headed by dissident IRA members who resigned from the mainstream organisation last November in opposition to the peace process strategy identified with the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, and his supporters.

Their political line is believed to be that the Adams leadership has strayed too far from traditional "Brits out" republicanism. In this they are regarded as supporters of a political grouping styled the "32 County Sovereignty Committee". Much of this group's support is thought to come from disaffected former Sinn Fein supporters.

Another breakaway republican group, the Continuity Army Council, has been carrying out bombing attacks in Northern Ireland towns for several years now, but the new grouping, though only a few months old, appears to have access to more sophisticated technology than the CAC.

In addition to the Forkhill incident it is held responsible for a similar mortar attack on a security installation in Armagh city some days ago. These are the only mortar attacks carried out in Northern Ireland by a group other than the IRA, and as such they demonstrate a fast-increasing destructive capability.

The RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, yesterday contradicted Ulster Unionist claims that recent attacks had involved the IRA. He said: "These attacks have largely been by republican terrorist organisations. They are not the work of the Provisional IRA."

He added, however: "The IRA remains an organisation which is intact and which presents a threat to this society ..."

IRA's future, page 21