IRA expresses sympathy for victims of 'deplorable attacks'

Terror in America: Ulster
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The Independent Online

The IRA expressed sympathy last night with the relatives of the victims of the terrorist attacks in the United States and said it would step up negotiations on the decommissioning of its weapons.

Its statement, which also denied it was involved in anything sinister in Colombia where three suspected members have been arrested, raised hopes that the peace process might regain momentum.

Although some will dismiss the move as a cynical effort to provide propaganda to protect the IRA after the American attacks and the arrests in Colombia, other observers suspected the statement had resulted from intensive talks.

The statement started: "We wish to extend our sympathy to the people of the United States and especially to the families and friends of the victims of the deplorable attacks."

It seems unlikely that enough progress could be made to avert the suspension of the Belfast Assembly, which is due this weekend.

But the move has increased the possibility that the suspension would be set for six weeks, rather than for an indefinite period. Last month, after intensive negotiations failed to lead to a deal, the IRA said that it was withdrawing an arms offer that it had made.

The announcement that it would step up talks with the body that deals with decommissioning was immediately welcomed by John Reid, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

"The important thing now is that it is quickly built upon to reach a comprehensive resolution of the arms issue," Mr Reid said.

The IRA also broke its silence on the three republicans arrested in Colombia last month on suspicion of training left-wing Farc rebels.

The statement said there had been "a lot of ill-founded and mischievous speculation" about the arrests of the three and "ill-considered and aggressive comment directed at our organisation.

"We wish to make it clear that the Army Council sent no one to Colombia to train or to engage in any military co- operation with any group," the statement said.

"The IRA has not interfered in the internal affairs of Colombia and will not do so. The IRA is not a threat to the peace process in Ireland or in Colombia."

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