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Friday, August 6, 1999 Published at 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK


IRA denies gun smuggling

IRA denies links to an alleged plot to smuggle guns from US

The IRA has denied its leadership sanctioned plans to smuggle guns into Ireland from the US.

In a statement issued on Friday to the republican newspaper, An Phoblacht, the IRA refers to recent reports of an alleged arms smuggling operation.

The Search for Peace
It says its own inquiries have shown no sanction was given by the leadership for such an operation.

The statement also says no breach of the IRA ceasefire was involved in last week's killing of Charles Bennett in Belfast and that the ceasefire remains intact.

The killing of the north Belfast man cast fresh doubt over IRA claims over the ceasefire. Mr Bennett was shot in the head on 30 July.

The BBC's Tom Coulter: As ever it is what the IRA does not say that is interesting
The Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, welcomed the IRA's comments.

He said the statement should end the speculation about the IRA ceasefire.

The IRA statement is as follows: "Following recent media reports of an alleged IRA arms importation operation from the USA, a preliminary investigation has been concluded by Oglaigh na hEireann (the IRA).

'No breach of ceasefire'

"The Army Council has not sanctioned any arms importation operation.

"There has also been speculation about the recent killing of Charles Bennett. Let us emphasise that there have been no breaches of the IRA cessation, which remains intact."

The IRA statement came one day after two men from Northern Ireland appeared in court in the US and pleaded not guilty to illegally posting guns and bullets from Florida to the Republic of Ireland.

Anthony Smyth, 42, and Conor Claxton, 26, appeared before Judge Barry Seltzer at a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Ulster Unionist security spokesman Ken Maginnis said the IRA statement should "be treated with contempt".

The MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone added: "Somebody once said there are ordinary lies and damn lies and I would place that particular statement in the second category.

"They were involved and I think that that statement should be treated with the kind of contempt that it deserves."

Truth 'should not be casualty'

Fine Gael leader John Bruton said the statement only distanced the IRA leadership from the transatlantic gun-smuggling plot.

"It would be interesting to know why they haven't stated that none of their members were involved in, perhaps, an unsanctioned operation," he said.

Commenting on the Bennett murder, he said it was a breach of the IRA ceasefire and Sinn Fein should be called to account.

"I don't believe that truth should become a casualty of the peace process. People should be honest enough to admit that this was a breach of the ceasefire," he said.

"What consequences one draws from that is something that has to be considered, but there has to be political accountability for any breach of the ceasefire on the part of the party associated with the paramilitaries that carried it out."

Senior SDLP negotiator, Sean Farren, said his party would not comment on the IRA statement, which was a matter for the British and Irish governments.

"We share the widespread outrage and concerns over the recent developments, in particular, the killing of Mr Bennett and the attempted importation of arms," he said.

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