From arms deals in Libya to training in the Balkans

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The Independent Online

The disclosure that suspected members of the Provisional IRA may have been training Colombian rebels is the latest in a long history of links between republican groups and international terrorists.

The IRA and its various splinter groups have taken a pragmatic approach for many years, and are prepared to deal with people willing to supply them with weapons or money. From trading with arms dealers in Libya and the Balkans to sharing training facilities with notorious dissidents the world over, the IRA has built up a strong network of overseas contacts for 25 years.

Many of the organisation's weapons were supplied by the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, between 1984 and 1987, including more than 1,000 rifles – half of which were Kalashnikovs – handguns and nearly three tons of Semtex explosive. The shipments also supplied anti-aircraft guns used against army helicopters in south Armagh.

Guns, explosives and missiles also came from America, the Middle East and from a Norwegian army depot near Oslo that was robbed in 1984.

The Provisional IRA has for many years had strong links with the Basque separatist organisation, Eta, which has killed about 800 people since 1968. Basque separatists were at one time trained at the same terrorist camps in Libya and other parts of the Middle East as members of the IRA.

Eta has political links with the IRA and made known that it was monitoring the peace initiative in Northern Ireland. In Belfast there are still graffiti and murals proclaiming support for Eta. But the relationship has become embarrassing to Sinn Fein because Eta goes on using bombs and bullets while Irish republicans are moving away from violence.

The Real IRA has built up its arms dumps after looting the former Yugoslavia, andis thought to have developed links with allies of Radovan Karad-zic, the Bosnian Serb leader charged with war crimes.

Last July, rocket launchers discovered in Split, Croatia, were thought to have been destined for the Real IRA, while weapons and explosives found in a dump outside Dublin in 1999 were alleged to have been supplied by a Croatian general suspected of war crimes.

Yesterday, a court in Slovakia was processing the extradition of three suspected Real IRA members who allegedly tried to buy weapons in a spa town in the west of the country from British MI6 agents masquerading as Iraqi arms salesmen.

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