IRA 'sorry' for civilian deaths
DUBLIN, Ireland -- The Irish Republican Army has issued an unprecedented statement apologising for the killing of all "non-combatants" during its 30-year campaign.
The republican paramilitary group offered its "sincere apologies and condolences" to the families of victims, while also acknowledging the grief and pain of the families of the combatants -- police, soldiers and loyalist paramilitaries -- killed during the violence.
The apology came on Tuesday, three days before the 30th anniversary of what is known as "Bloody Friday" -- in which nine people were killed and 130 were injured by more than 20 bombs that exploded in less than an hour in Belfast. (Analysis)
It is the first time the leadership of the organisation has offered a straight apology for any of its acts. (Full statement)
The statement, signed by "P O'Neill," as with all statements from the IRA leadership, said: "While it was not our intention to injure or kill non-combatants, the reality is that on this and on a number of other occasions, that was the consequence of our actions.
"It is, therefore, appropriate on the anniversary of this tragic event, that we address all of the deaths and injuries of non-combatants caused by us. We offer our sincere apologies and condolences to their families.
"There have been fatalities amongst combatants on all sides. We also acknowledge the grief and pain of their relatives."
The statement, released to the republican newspaper An Phoblacht and Dublin newsrooms, continued: "The IRA is committed unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland.
"We remain totally committed to the peace process and to dealing with the challenges and difficulties which this presents. This includes the acceptance of past mistakes and of the hurt and pain we have caused to others."
The British government gave a guarded welcome to the statement.
Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid welcomed the strength of the statement and its acknowledgement of the pain caused to so many people.
"What we all have to do is to give people the confidence that there will be no return to the type of activities that caused that pain and that we are all committed to resolving our difficulties through exclusively democratic and political means," he said.
"This is a peace process which is in transition, which has come a huge distance but it won't be completed until everyone is confident that the past is behind us and that the type of actions which brought so much pain have been set aside."
David Ervine, leader of Northern Ireland's Progressive Unionist Party, which speaks for the Paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, said: "It's been a long time in coming and we should acknowledge the fact that it has arrived and hope that maybe it heralds a new attitude."
Records show the IRA killed nearly 1,800 people during its campaign, nearly 650 of them civilians.
Friday July 21, 1972, was one of the most notorious dates in the violent history of the Northern Ireland troubles.
The day became known as "Bloody Friday" as panic-stricken shoppers ran from one to location to another hoping for safety as bombs went off around them.
Four local bus employees and two soldiers died when a car bomb that exploded at Oxford Bus Station, Belfast's biggest depot.
Another car bomb at a shopping centre in Cavehill Road in north Belfast killed two women and a 14-year-old schoolboy.
The IRA later said it had telephoned three warnings but the security forces said they were overwhelmed by numerous hoax calls on the day.
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