N.Irish militants end war, Clinton urges devolution

DUBLIN,  (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary  Clinton urged Britain yesterday to give Northern Ireland  authority over its justice system to complete a peace process  that got a boost when a paramilitary group said it would end  violence.  

Clinton, who met with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen in  Dublin and holds talks with leaders in Belfast today, said  the peace process on the island was a model for other world hot  spots — but more work needed to be done.  

Fighting between pro-British and Irish nationalist groups  killed 3,600 people before a 1998 peace deal that was followed  by pledges by the main militant organisations on both sides  including the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to disarm.  

“It will take the leaders of both communities working  together … to make day-to-day governing a reality and I am  confident that is within reach,” Clinton told a joint press  conference with Cowen. 
 
The fragile balance within the Belfast power-sharing  executive that includes former IRA guerrillas and hardline  pro-British leaders has been tested by tensions over the timing  of devolving policing and justice powers from Westminster.

“The step of devolution for policing and justice is an  absolutely essential milestone,” Clinton said. “Clearly, there  are questions and some apprehensions but … the parties  understand this is a step they must take together.”   

The peace process got a further lift yesterday as the  paramilitary group the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)  said it would end its violent activities.  

Together with moves by pro-British militant groups earlier  this year to disarm, the INLA announcement showed growing  political stability, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said.  

“Indications from any group who have been involved in  violent activity in the North to the effect that they are  ceasing such activity, that’s a welcome development,” Martin  told reporters ahead of Clinton’s arrival. 

The IRA’s political ally Sinn Fein said it welcomed the  statement from the INLA, adding that it would be met with some  scepticism given the history of the organisation.

“However, if it is followed by the actions that are  necessary this is a welcome development,” Sinn Fein President  Gerry Adams said in a statement.  

Underlining the continuing security threat in the UK  province, 10 police officers were wounded in a “serious  disturbance” involving over 150 people in the county of Armagh  south of Belfast in the early hours of yesterday, police said.  

They said the crowd attacked a police patrol, smashing the  windows of police vehicles and kicking and punching officers,  but added that none of the injuries were believed to be serious.  

Politically to the left of the IRA, the INLA broke away in  1975 and became one of the most ruthless Republican guerrilla  groups killing former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s  aide Airey Neave in a 1979 bomb attack in London.  The group, which had a history of violent in-fighting,  called a ceasefire in 1998, but an independent report in 2007  said that while activity was at a low level it remained a threat  due to its involvement in serious crimes.  

The INLA, like most other dissident groups, has been linked  to criminal activities such as smuggling and drug dealing, and  it has used bases in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of  Ireland, especially around Dublin.

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