Police arrest 10 for Omagh bomb attack

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TEN PEOPLE have been arrested by police investigating the Omagh bomb attack last August, in which 29 were killed.

The operation, carried out on both sides of the Irish border, came as London and Dublin prepared a determined push to crack the arms decommissioning dispute before the Orange marching season plunges politics into suspended animation.

Tony Blair and theTaoiseach, Bertie Ahern, are expected in Belfast later this week, possibly on Thursday, for intensive negotiations. There were warnings yesterday that, in the event of failure, the peace process could unravel over the summer.

During the weekend police operation, six people were arrested in the Irish Republicand four in the South Armagh area. Four Royal Ulster Constabulary officers involved in the latter operation were injured in the village of Jonesborough when they encountered a crowd of party- goers. Police described these as "a crowd of 15 intoxicated and very aggressive people", who, they said, used beer glasses, stones and hurling sticks to assault the arresting officers.

The Omagh bombing was the work of the so-called Real IRA, a breakaway group. After the bombing it declared a ceasefire, though some of its members are said to be intent on resuming a campaign of violence, in concert with members of other small republican groups.

In the wake of Omagh, both Westminster and the Dail in Dublin rushed through legislation intended to help police secure convictions arising from the attack. One man has already been charged in the Republic in connection with the incident.

The two premiers will try to achieve some progress before the 30 June deadline which they have set. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, warned yesterday: "If we go past the 30th, into Drumcree, into a long summer, a lot of the good work could well be unpicked."

President Bill Clinton was said to be making a series of transatlantic phone calls in an attempt to persuade the parties, in particular the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein, to reach a compromise. Mr Clinton was said to have declared that he is "ready day and night to do what he could in support of those efforts".

Although Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein said he believed success was possible, there is at present little public belief that the issue can be resolved before the deadline. Both Unionists and republicans are adamant that they will not move on the central issue.

Some weeks ago the Ulster Unionist party leader, David Trimble, appeared to waver in insisting on the requirement for prior decommissioning, but his party's assembly members opposed any weakening in the party's position.

Sinn Fein and the IRA have resisted heavy pressure to agree to decommissioning, certainly in advance of the formation of a Northern Ireland executive.

On Friday, the Ulster Unionist party executive insisted it would "not sit in an executive with Sinn Fein-IRA until they have begun a credible and verifiable process of decommissioning leading to complete disarmament by May 2000". Given these mutually exclusive positions, a successful outcome in the coming negotiations will require judicious application of both creative thinking and heavy pressure.

Police have arrested but freed without charge nearly 100 people since last year's bomb attack on the religiously mixed Northern Ireland town of Omagh. So far only one person - a 46-year-old pub owner originally from South Armagh and living near Dundalk - has been charged in connection with the bombing, the worst single atrocity in the 30-year history of the Troubles.