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Britain battles it out in N. Ireland. Ambush of IRA members may signal tougher security

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Britain is taking strong steps to combat the upsurge of violence by the outlawed Irish Republican Army. Advisers to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher say they want to keep the Irish Republican Army (IRA) guessing, and hence would not comment on a series of security meetings this past week. But officials in Britain's province of Northern Ireland and in London have indicated no options were being ruled out.

Last week, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tom King said that planned new measures ``would become apparent shortly in certain particular ways.'' He did not elaborate.

The first apparent sign of a tough new policy came yesterday, with reports that three armed IRA members were ambushed and killed by security forces in Northern Ireland Tuesday night. The incident occurred about 10 miles from the scene of a coach-bomb attack which caused the deaths of eight British soldiers 11 days earlier.

The government refused to say whether the shootings constituted a new security policy. But it is widely assumed here that the action was carried out by members of the Special Air Services (SAS), Britain's highly trained commando force. And in a statement Wednesday, the IRA said the three slain men were ``on active service.''

In the past two days signs of IRA activity have been evident.

On Wednesday, West German officials caught two suspected IRA guerrillas who were coming across the border from the Netherlands. The armed pair was apprehended around midnight near a British air base.

And in the Northern Irish city of Londonderry, the IRA yesterday took responsibility for an accidental bomb explosion in an apartment. Two people were killed in the blast which, the IRA said, had been intended for British soldiers checking houses in the area.

There is concern over the upsurge in IRA violence that, so far this year, has claimed the lives of 27 members of the British security forces in attacks ranging from Northern Ireland, to mainland Britain and continental Europe.

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