Rift in IRA as guns go missing

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A SIGN of the severe internal tensions within the IRA emerged last night when the republican movement publicly admitted that some of its guns had been seized by dissidents.

The Republican News, which is closely associated with Sinn Fein, said a small amount of IRA weaponry had been "secretly misappropriated" by people who defected from its ranks more than a year ago.

Most of those who left the organisation went on to form the "Real IRA", the splinter group responsible for the Omagh bomb atrocity that killed 29 people last August.

The unauthorised taking of weaponry is regarded by the IRA as a serious offence which has been followed, on occasions, by the killing of those held responsible.

One of those who left the IRA just over a year ago was a former quartermaster- general who was responsible for hiding weaponry. Republican sources have always said that although he defected to the Real IRA he did not take any guns with him.

The disclosure may help explain recent reports of abductions and fights within IRA ranks. An IRA statement said investigations would continue "until all the missing weaponry has been recovered".