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IRA continues, Real IRA disarms

But 'Real IRA' says it will disarm

But 'Real IRA' says it will disarm

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DUBLIN, Ireland (CNN) -- The Irish Republican Army has resisted calls for it to disband but insisted it is not a threat to the peace process, a senior source has told news organizations.

Meanwhile, senior members of the Real IRA, a dissident Irish republican group blamed for the 1998 Omagh bombing, announced Saturday the group will disband and disarm.

Both moves follow a speech by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in which he called for the IRA to stand down for the sake of peace.

However, the Real IRA leadership said its decision was not related in any way to Blair's speech.

The peace process is facing its most serious crisis since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 after an alleged republican spy ring was uncovered inside the Stormont assembly building prompting London to suspend devolution.

Blair said on Thursday: "We cannot carry on with the IRA half in, half out of this process. Republicans must make the commitment to exclusively peaceful means -- real, total and permanent."

On Saturday a senior IRA source gave the group's first response to Blair's speech to the BBC, Ireland's RTE network and the UK's Press Association.

IRA source: 'There is ... anger'

The source told PA News: "There is considerable concern within the IRA at recent developments.

"There is also real anger at the attempt to present the IRA as a threat to the peace process.

"The IRA is not a threat to the process and will not accept the imposition of unrealistic demands."

The Real IRA move was announced in a statement to be published Sunday in the Dublin-based Sunday Independent newspaper. Senior members of the group, currently in a Dublin prison, issued the statement to a reporter, who confirmed the details to CNN.

The Irish government in Dublin had been having talks for several weeks with group leadership, and there was speculation the announcement was the result of some kind of deal between the government and the Real IRA.

The statement was authorized by the group's senior members, who are in the high-security Portlaoise prison in Dublin.

The development, however, highlighted a split within the Real IRA, a much smaller and less powerful organization than the Irish Republican Army. Members of the Real IRA who are not in prison indicated they would not back the move and the statement criticized them as nothing more than gangsters.

The Real IRA broke away from the IRA in the 1990s, objecting to the main group's cease-fire in its fight against British rule in Northern Ireland, and are viewed as being made up of the militant "hard core" of the Republican movement.

Relatives of the victims of the 1998 Omagh bombing, which left 29 people and two unborn babies dead, were cynical about the Real IRA's move.

Michael Gallagher, whose son was killed in the bombing and who now serves as a spokesman for the relatives, fears the group agreed to disband in exchange for an agreement by the government not to pursue charges against Real IRA members responsible for the Omagh blast.

In an unusual step, the statement's authors expressed regret for Omagh, the single worst terrorist atrocity in Northern Ireland. They called the bombing a "tactical mistake" and said violence is pointless.

Fourth suspension of Stormont

The Stormont assembly was suspended on at midnight on Monday -- the fourth time since the Good Friday deal was secured.

The suspension kept the agreement intact and prevented the Ulster Unionists from quitting the government but it also generated concerns that the power-sharing plan may not be revived.

Northern Ireland's peace process has been dogged by persistent allegations over the past year of continuing IRA activity.

In August 2001, three IRA suspects were arrested in Colombia and are accused of training rebel forces.

The IRA has also been accused of the break-in and theft of sensitive Special Branch documents from the top security Castlereagh police station on St. Patrick's Night in March.

And earlier this month four people were arrested for allegedly operating a republican spy ring inside Stormont -- triggering the British government's decision to suspend the assembly.



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