LONDON -- The Irish Republican Army, responsible for many of the 70 violent deaths in Northern Ireland this year, announced yesterday a surprise three-day suspension of bombings and killings in the province.
The lull in the outlawed group's efforts to drive the British out of Northern Ireland came as security forces were bracing for a possible Christmas bombing campaign.
The British sent an extra battalion of troops to the province just three weeks ago in anticipation of increased violence.
A statement from the IRA high command said that all "active service units" -- the actual bombers and gunmen -- had been ordered to "suspend all offensive military action in the British-occupied area for a period of three days, from midnight tonight until midnight on Dec. 26."
The statement, issued in Dublin, said the IRA leadership reserved the right to take "defensive action."
The last time the IRA ordered a Christmas cease-fire was Dec. 22, 1974. It lasted for eight months.