This is no phoney war, says the IRA

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The IRA declared yesterday that it was on a war footing and that it is highly unlikely to announce a new ceasefire in advance of the general election.

The ominous statement came as intelligence sources warned that extra IRA terrorists and explosives have probably been brought over to Britain to replenish the organisation's arsenal following a series of successful police operations.

Security and police sources also believe the IRA is poised to carry out further attacks on the mainland and are baffled as to why the terrorists have not yet attempted a fresh strike.

The warnings came on the eve of the first anniversary of the Docklands bomb in east London, which destroyed the 17-month ceasefire, killed two people and caused damage costing millions of pounds.

The IRA statement was a confirmation of the security force assessment that more terrorist attacks are on the way, probably in both Northern Ireland and in Britain.

IRA spokesmen yesterday contacted several journalists in Dublin to spell out the organisation's position. Their message was a familiar one: that the conflict was continuing for the moment, but that the IRA was nonetheless interested in a permanent settlement.

They denied recent media speculation that they were involved in a "phoney war", a theory which has been aired in the wake of almost a dozen shooting, bombing and mortar attacks which have failed to inflict casualties on the security forces.

The IRA said resolution of the Ulster conflict required "meaningful negotiations" without preconditions insisting on the prior decommissioning of paramilitary arms. It said it remained supportive of Sinn Fein and that party's leadership, adding that there had been no move away from the position adopted by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, the party's president and vice-president.

Meanwhile, Scotland Yard yesterday appealed for information about a truck which it believes may have been used by the IRA in London during the summer.

There were varying descriptions of the Y or A registered Ford Transit pick-up. Some highlighted a maroon loading bay with a gold Romany design, others a black cab with a bonnet outlined in gold. A distinctive feature that has been noted is the door panels, which carry a red circular belt with a gold buckle.

The descriptions of the truck were circulated to police stations three weeks ago.

Commander John Grieve, head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch, urged anyone with information to contact a confidential telephone hotline on 0800 789 321.

David Veness, the Yard's assistant commissioner, said: "A year on from South Quay [Docklands], events have shown that the threat of terrorism is here for the foreseeable future."

Two soldiers escaped injury yesterday when IRA gunmen opened fire on their unmarked vehicle near Antrim. Three shots were fired near a roundabout not far from Northern Ireland's International Airport.