N.Ireland militants still 'active and dangerous': watchdog

26th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Dissident republican groups in Northern Ireland remain "highly active and dangerous" but command little support, the latest report from a paramilitary watchdog said on Wednesday.

The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) said mainstream organisations continue to follow the peaceful path set out by the 1998 Good Friday peace accords, which largely ended three decades of sectarian violence here.

"In the six months under review dissident groups remained highly active and dangerous," the report said.

Security services have warned the threat posed by paramilitaries opposed to the peace process is at its highest level for more than a decade and sporadic attacks continue to plague the province.

A car bomb was left outside a polling booth on Britain's May 6 general election, while a bomb exploded outside the Northern Ireland headquarters of Britain's MI5 security agency in April. Nobody was seriously hurt.

The IMC report said the Real IRA, which shot dead one of its own members in February, remains "an extremely serious threat" but has little local support, political clout or serious resources.

The Real IRA is a splinter group of the Provisional IRA, the main republican paramilitary group which gave up its long-running and bloody campaign for Northern Ireland to be unified with the Republic of Ireland in 2005.

It claimed responsibility for the killing of two British soldiers in the province in March 2009 and regularly attacks security forces here, conducts shootings, assaults and various forms of serious organised crime.

However, the Real IRA's campaign was "in no way a reappearance of something comparable" to the main IRA's campaigns during The Troubles, the IMC said.

The political context is "entirely different", as most people back the peace process and the power-sharing administration between the republicans and unionists which run the British-ruled province, while the Real IRA also lacks the same resources as the mainstream IRA had, the IMC said.

The report also pointed to decommissioning efforts among both republican and unionist paramilitaries as proof of the province's progress, which Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said was a "hugely important signal of change".

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said dissident republican groups were seeking to undermine the will of the Irish people on both sides of the border.

"They speak for no one, they represent no one and they are engaged in activities which are not supported and are intrinsically evil in themselves," he told parliament.

Separately, the British government announced Wednesday that a long-awaited official report into the 1972 shooting of 14 civil rights protesters by soldiers in Londonderry, known as Bloody Sunday, would be published on June 15.

The investigation by Lord Saville into the killings, which provided the repulicans with a flood of new recruits, has taken 12 years and cost 200 million pounds (290 million dollars, 230 million euros).

© 2010 AFP

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