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IRA Split Threatens N. Ireland Cease-fire

Top IRA members resign over disarmament pledge

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A serious split has opened up in the top ranks of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), posing a threat to the Northern Ireland peace process, British security officials say.

The British and Irish governments fear the schism will put pressure on the renewed cease-fire called in July, which has made possible all-party talks that include representatives of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing.

British sources say at least two key members of the IRA's top leadership have resigned from the organization in recent weeks.

The IRA leaders claimed that by signing the so-called Mitchell principles on nonviolence, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams betrayed the cause of militant Irish republicanism, the sources said.

By agreeing to the Mitchell principles, which call for "total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations," Mr. Adams and chief Sinn Fein negotiator Martin McGuinness were able to gain admission to the Belfast peace talks.

David McKittrick, a leading analyst of Northern Ireland affairs, says the row "poses fundamental questions about the control which Adams and McGuinness have over the republican movement."

"This breach represents the most serious and most public rift within the organization's ranks for well over a decade," Mr. McKittrick says.

The identity of the IRA's top leadership, which in the past has planned numerous terrorist attacks in Britain and mainland Europe, is a closely guarded secret. But reliable British security sources have confirmed that the two senior officials had quit.

The sources said one of them was a member of the organization's seven-person "army council," and the other was responsible for controlling and allocating IRA weapons and explosives used in terrorist attacks.

Further evidence of turmoil in the upper reaches of the IRA came over the weekend with news that 12 Sinn Fein members in County Louth had announced they could no longer back the leadership of Adams and Mr. McGuinness.

Official confirmation of "difficulties" over IRA and Sinn Fein policy came last Friday from Mitchel McLauchlin, chairman of Sinn Fein. "The peace process itself, this collaboration with all the political forces on the island, isn't seen to be delivering the goods, and that's going to cause problems for us all," Mr. McLauchlin said in a statement.

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