Provisionals tell Real IRA to disband

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A VIOLENT feud between rival factions of Irish republicanism threatened to erupt last night as leaders of the dissident Real IRA were ordered to disband or face unspecified "reprisals" from the Provisionals.

The national executive of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, which the Garda believes is linked to the Real IRA, disclosed the warning in a statement issued in Dublin yesterday. The threats were allegedly made by senior Provisional IRA army council representatives during visits to homes of up to 60 people this week, saying action would be taken if the Real IRA did not disband within a fortnight.

"In the last 48 hours threats have been received from fellow republicans," it said. "This sullies the name of republicanism and we want these people to stop making threats against us."

The threats follow alleged warnings last month from Provisionals to individual members of the splinter group that they were "dead men walking" as a result of the Omagh bombing. One man who was visited at his home said: "Two men called at my door and said the Real IRA had no right to exist and accused it of misappropriating weapons." Anger at the Omagh killings is thought to have led to a number of supporters of the Real IRA backing away from further involvement.

Last week a split between those wishing to end the campaign and a rump committed to violence was cited by observers as the reason for a failure to announce an expected Real IRA complete ceasefire. News of the private warnings follows a public instruction by the mainstream republican movement.

Interviewed in yesterday's issue of Sinn Fein's weekly newspaper, An Phoblacht/Republican News, an IRA spokesman said: "Irish republicans throughout the 32 counties have, both privately and publicly, made very clear their anger at the actions of those responsible for the [Omagh] bomb.

"They have done only disservice to the republican cause. They have no coherent political strategy; they are not a credible alternative to the Irish Republican Army."

From today, Real IRA members will face intense police action in the Irish Republic after laws making it easier to prosecute members of illegal organisations and those directing or assisting terrorism took effect last night.

The Senate backed the package yesterday after the Dail's approval on Wednesday. With President Mary McAleese visiting Australia, her role in signing the measure into law was taken by the three-strong Presidential Commission, comprising the Chief Justice and the speakers of the Dail and Senate.

If the Provisionals are drawn into a protracted violent feud (recalling what happened when the 1970 split with the so-called Official IRA sparked years of beatings and shootings) the implications for Sinn Fein's role in the Stormont assembly and the wider peace process could be serious.

Sinn Fein has formally endorsed the Good Friday Agreement and the earlier Mitchell principles specifically rejecting violence. Clear breaches by the Provisionals of the principles now would present serious difficulties for the embryonic consensus between unionists, nationalists and republicans.