Talks with N. Ireland dissidents no betrayal: police chief

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Northern Ireland's police chief said on Sunday that opening talks with armed groups would not amount to a betrayal, despite recent bomb attacks that have targeted members of the police and army.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott said dissident republicans, who are seeking to derail the British province's peace process and have been blamed for the attacks, had to be confronted to bring an end to the violence.

"History would say there has never been a security solution to terrorism... ultimately there has to be persuasion and dialogue," the head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) told Irish national broadcaster RTE.

Asked about politicians entering talks with the dissidents who had targeted his officers, he responded: "I don't think it's a betrayal.

"I think there would be conditions attached to that and that is the way of all dialogue in the past."

"We do need to confront some of these groups on why they think they have a mandate to do this," Baggott added, saying the province's leaders and the vast majority of its inhabitants opposed the violence.

His comments came after the province's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said on Thursday that Britain and Ireland had held secret talks with armed groups linked to recent unrest.

The British and Irish governments both dismissed the claim.

The weekend was marked by fresh violence in Northern Ireland during which police came under attack.

A bomb blast on Saturday in Lurgan, County Armagh, left three children -- a two-year-old and two 12-year-olds -- with minor injuries. Police have said the bomb, which was hidden in a bin, was planted to injure or kill its officers.

After the blast, rioters targeted police officers with petrol bombs and other missiles. No one was injured, said the PSNI.

Republican groups have been blamed for a series of car bombings or attempted car bombings which targeted an army major, a policewoman and a civilian police worker in the past fortnight.

Although no one has been killed in the attacks, they have fuelled fears of a return to fatalities.

Northern Ireland's turbulent past -- known as The Troubles -- pitched Catholic republicans, opposed to British rule, against Protestants, who favoured being governed from London. Some 3,500 people were killed.

The violence was largely ended by a 1998 peace deal but sporadic unrest still flares in the province.

© 2010 AFP

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