Ulster peace in balance

Cease-fire doubts: Gun running, murder jeopardize Sinn Fein's right to sit in government.

August 04, 1999

TWO recent crimes have raised the specter of resumed IRA terrorism. They can only strengthen the resolve of the Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, to deny Sin Fein seats in a Northern Ireland executive Cabinet until the IRA has begun disarmament.

In July, the FBI broke a gun-running ring in Florida, thanks to cooperation with the British and Irish police. Weapons mailed to an address in Ireland were detected by an X-ray scanner at an English airport. Four persons were arrested in this country and more, on the receiving end, in Galway.

And last week, a young Catholic man named Charles Bennett was found dead in Belfast -- bound, blindfolded and shot twice in the head. It looked like an IRA punishment killing. Many of the guns procured and sought by the smuggling ring were concealable assassin's pistols, used in such killings.

While either event might have been done by a splinter group, both appeared to be the work of the Provisional IRA, the "military" movement of which Sinn Fein is the "political" branch.

As of yesterday, the Irish government in Dublin was refusing to be rushed into deciding whether the IRA had broken its 2-year-old cease-fire. Sinn Fein was insisting that the cease-fire was holding.

No one should expect Mr. Trimble to take Sinn Fein into partnership before a start of genuine "decommissioning" of arms. Hence the stalemate. Peace in Northern Ireland also requires an end to terrorism over the minority community by its self-appointed soldiers.

American friends of the Irish peace process should be trying to persuade Sinn Fein of both these inescapable truths.

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