Our ceasefire stands, say IRA

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The Independent Online
The IRA yesterday insisted that its ceasefire was still in place and that it was seeking a democratic solution to the problems of Ulster.

In a brief statement issued to the RTE broadcasting network in Dublin, the group said: "Contrary to speculation surrounding recent killings in Belfast, the IRA cessation of military operations remains intact. We reiterate our preparedness to facilitate a climate which enhances the search for a democratic settlement through real and inclusive negotiations."

The statement was last night seen as a clear effort by the IRA to distance itself from the recent killings and to try to ensure that Sinn Fein is not suspended from the all-party talks

However, the statement, issued yesterday evening, came amid growing speculation that Sinn Fein could be suspended from talks this weekend. Sources in London said a police helicopter had tracked the escape car from one of the shootings, and known Provisional IRA members had been linked to the killing, although forensic evidence may not be enough to bring charges.

Ronnie Flanagan, the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was under intense pressure to make the announcement and Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has said that the Government would "act without hesitation" to determine whether the Mitchell principles renouncing violence have been broken by Sinn Fein before the talks resume in Dublin on Monday.

A prominent Unionist source said: "We would be very disappointed if Sinn Fein are still in the talks on Monday morning."

The suspension could be for a short period, lasting a few weeks following the signal given last night by Paul Murphy, the Northern Ireland minister, to the Loyalist Ulster Defence Party that they could be readmitted at the end of February after only five weeks, after being suspended over tit-for-tat killings of Catholics by Loyalists in revenge for the murder of Billy Wright, the Loyalist leader, in the Maze prison.

However, Sinn Fein warned that such a suspension could unleash IRA hard- liners. Speaking in Belfast, the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, said: "The question could be better put in terms of how influential we would be if we were dumped out of the process we have every right to be in. There are no grounds for expulsion, and the peace process cannot work without us."

But he refused to be drawn on who could have been responsible for the murder of Bobby Dougan, a leading member of the Ulster Defence Association, and Brendan Campbell, a drugs dealer.

Mr Adams accused David Trimble, the Unionist leader, of heading a propaganda campaign to have his party thrown out of the talks. "It is dictated solely by political expediency and their own tactical objective of preventing any meaningful change in the status quo here in Ireland."

Paul Murphy, the Northern Ireland minister, last night told UDP leaders via a video conference link to Belfast that London and Dublin would begin to review its eligibility to participate "with a view to considering whether the necessary conditions had been met to enable the UDP's re-entry in the process".