IRA hints at cease-fire before N. Ireland talks Nine parties to gather in Belfast on Monday

June 08, 1996|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Is the Irish Republican Army about to call another cease-fire?

The question is overshadowing the maneuvers taking place in advance of Monday's formal talks on the future of Northern Ireland.

The IRA announced it was studying government documents that were part of the agreement to set up the talks -- a statement seen by many as a signal the IRA could be evaluating its cease-fire policy.

Previously, the group had said there was little chance of a cease-fire before the talks opened.

Based on results of a May 30 election, nine political parties are scheduled to be represented at the talks, to be chaired by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. But Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, which finished fourth in the balloting, is barred unless the IRA announces a new cease-fire.

Monday will produce great theater -- if nothing else -- when the parties convene at Stormont, the government building in Belfast. British Prime Minister John Major and his Irish counterpart, John Bruton, will be there, along with a host of firebrand Northern Irish politicians.

Sinn Fein leaders vow to show up at the Stormont gates. If the IRA cease-fire hasn't come back into force, they'll likely be blocked by police -- and television cameras.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams refused to say whether he believed the IRA was signaling a return to a cease-fire. He said the cease-fire demand -- made by governments in London, Dublin and Washington -- was "creating difficulties for all of us."

"I think the big problem for Sinn Fein remains in the fact we're locked out of the talks," Adams said yesterday in Belfast. "That is also a huge problem for the future of those talks for the search for peace."

But Major keeps applying the pressure.

"The option is there for Sinn Fein if they want to join the talks," he said. "There has to be a comprehensive, clear-cut cease-fire. They know that, and if they are not prepared to have a cease-fire, they can't join the talks."

The IRA ended a 17-month cease-fire in February with a bomb blast that killed two people and injured more than 30. Yesterday, the British media reported that five men have been detained as possible suspects in that bombing.

Added to the mix was a report Thursday by the British Broadcasting Corp., claiming that several key members of Sinn Fein were involved in IRA decision-making.

Among those named were Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief strategist, and Gerry Kelly, a prominent Sinn Fein negotiator once jailed for 1973 bombings in London.

Mitchel McLaughlin, Sinn Fein's chairman, said the BBC allegations were "scandalous" and timed to disrupt the start of the all-party talks.

Sinn Fein claims it is a distinct organization from the IRA, although the groups share the same goal of driving the British from Northern Ireland and creating a united Ireland.

Pub Date: 6/08/96

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