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IRA Announces Complete End to Violence in Ireland

By Tyler Marshall
Los Angeles Times
LONDON

In a major development that could signal an end to one of the world's oldest conflicts, the Irish Republican Army announced Wednesday a "complete cessation" of violence in its struggle to end British control over Northern Ireland.

"In order to enhance the democratic peace process and underline our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of the IRA (has) decided that as of midnight tonight there will be a complete cessation of military operations," declared a statement issued by the IRA in Dublin. "All our units have been instructed accordingly."

The brief statement, issued just before lunchtime here, ended days of mounting speculation that a major breakthrough in the conflict was imminent.

It was immediately hailed by the Irish government and leaders of the Roman Catholic community in Northern Ireland as the end of the 25-year-long guerrilla campaign.

"There's a deep sense of history in this house today, and, indeed, throughout the country," Irish Premier Albert Reynolds told a special session of the Irish Parliament after the statement was issued. "It is a day that many had begun to fear they might never see."

President Clinton, who has quietly nudged the warring parties toward a peace formula since last February, also hailed Wednesday's developments as "a watershed announcement" and said the cease-fire could "mark the beginning of a new era that holds the promise of peace for all the people of Northern Ireland."

But the omission of specific wording in the IRA statement that the cease-fire would be permanent triggered immediate concern among senior British government officials here, who said more was needed before the peace process could move forward as planned.

Under an accord worked out last December, if the IRA agreed first to give up violence, the British and Irish governments agreed to give Sinn Fein, the IRA political wing, a voice in round-table negotiations that would search for a lasting settlement to the Northern Ireland conflict.

In virtually all their references to the agreement, British officials have stressed the need for an IRA pledge for a permanent end to the violence.

It was also unclear if militant Protestants would carry out their threats to step up their own campaign of violence in the wake of the IRA announcement.

Despite this concern and the British reservations, the IRA announcement is the single biggest step, so far, toward ending a conflict that has claimed more than 3,000 lives and left another 30,000 wounded in a quarter-century of violence.

Indeed, just hours before the IRA declaration, the dispute claimed its most recent victim, as the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force kidnapped a 37-year-old Catholic, shot him in the head and dumped his body on a roadside.

While there were isolated celebrations in Northern Ireland, the prevailing mood among its 1.5 million residents was one of nervous optimism.

"There's a lot of suspicion," said John Derby, a political scientist at the University of Colraine, a mainly Protestant town. "I think it will be hard for the Unionists (Protestants) to sit down with people who've been killing them for the last 25 years."

On Wednesday night, British Prime Minister John Major was seeking assurances about the IRA statement from Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams that could lead to just such a meeting at the peace table.

"If he were to say tonight, This statement is unambiguous, that the violence has ended for good,' then within three months, we could start talking with Sinn Fein on how to go forward with the peace process," Major told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Northern Ireland Secretary Patrick Mayhew, when asked if the IRA statement met British demands, answered, "No, I don't think it's clear." But he added that "a very few informal words" of assurances would be enough to start the process.

In a television interview late Wednesday, Adams said he would attempt to get the needed clarifications.

In return for the cease-fire, Adams also called for a demilitarization of Northern Ireland - meaning a withdrawal of the 18,000 British soldiers stationed there - and a return of the IRA prisoners to Ulster from jails in Britain.

But the absence of any reference to a permanent cease-fire in Wednesday's announcement fueled existing anger and suspicion among hard-line Protestants in Northern Ireland, also known as Ulster.

With the kind of hate-fueled logic that has so often prevented progress toward peace among the warring factions in the past, Protestant militants are convinced that anything suggested or offered by the IRA, must, almost by definition, be bad for them. They believe the British and Irish governments must have made secret concessions to get the IRA to agree to a cease-fire.

And celebrations Wednesday by Roman Catholic residents in the Ulster capital of Belfast, who drove through their neighborhoods cheering and waving the Irish flag, only reinforced Protestant convictions that the IRA cease-fire is part of a deal against their interests.

Ian Paisley - the leader of the smaller, more radical of the two Protestant-based political parties in Northern Ireland and a member of Parliament - denounced the wording of the IRA statement as "a clever Jesuit expression."