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Peace At Risk, Sinn Fein Criticized After IRA Breaks Cease-Fire

February 10, 1996 GMT

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Hope for peace in Northern Ireland diminished but didn’t quite die Saturday, a day after the Irish Republican Army stunned even its own supporters with a deadly bomb attack in London.

Britain and Ireland, stung by the IRA’s apparent return to the violent campaign against British rule it stopped 17 months ago, demanded the outlawed group recommit itself to peace or _ with its Sinn Fein party allies _ face isolation again.

``I intend to carry on the search for peace with the Irish government and the democratic political parties,″ British Prime Minister John Major said. ``The IRA and Sinn Fein must say now that their campaign of violence has stopped, and they will never resume it again.″

The bomb exploded Friday night in a parking garage in the Docklands area of east London, an hour after the unexpected announcement that the IRA was calling off a 17-month cease fire to protest the slow pace of the peace process. The explosion reverberated across London and left a twisted mass of pipes, crumbled concrete and glass.

On Saturday, as the IRA claimed responsibility, police found a man’s body near the blast site Saturday _ the first confirmed death.

Three dozen people were taken to hospitals for treatment, and five _ including a 55-year-old man in critical condition with severe head and chest injuries _ remained hospitalized Saturday evening.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon said the bomb, believed to have been packed into a van and left in a parking garage, contained up to half a ton of homemade explosives. Insurance assessors estimated blast damage at $127.5 million.

Heavily armed officers stopped cars and trucks in London, and trash bins were hastily removed from railway stations so they could not be used to hide explosives.

In Belfast, British troops reappeared in flak jackets on the streets immediately after the explosion. They sealed off roads around the airport and mounted street checkpoints _ all depressingly familiar sights in the sectarian-divided British province. Such patrols had been withdrawn after the IRA cease-fire, which started Sept. 1, 1994.

Governments and political parties struggled to preserve what President Clinton called ``the simple blessings of a normal life″ that Northern Ireland had begun to take for granted. Clinton said in Washington that he will do all in his power ``to make sure the enemies of peace do not prevail.″

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But much depends on whether the IRA strikes again.

Its return to violence makes British Protestant politicians even more reluctant to join negotiations with Sinn Fein and cast doubt upon whether Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams can be an effective peacemaker.

Still, condemnation of the bombing came accompanied by a tenacious hope that peace can be salvaged.

``The government want the IRA cease-fire to be restored immediately,″ said Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, who indicated he would refuse to meet with Sinn Fein until that happened. Bruton demanded that the IRA and Sinn Fein promise unequivocally to forswear violence for good.

Adams appealed Saturday for urgent meetings with the British and Irish governments. ``I had no prior knowledge of what was going to happen,″ said Adams, who faced new questions about whether he was still in command of the Sinn Fein-IRA movement.

Adams rejected suggestions to condemn the bombing, saying it would complicate his relations with the IRA. ``It would not help me with those people one jot _ and John Major knows that,″ he said.

John Hume, the moderate Catholic leader who put his reputation on the line by meeting with Adams in 1993 to pursue an IRA cease-fire, met Adams in Belfast on Saturday. Colleagues described Hume as drained and dispirited.

David Trimble, leader of Northern Ireland’s main pro-British party, the Ulster Unionists, left for Washington on Saturday and expects to meet Clinton on Monday. He suggested Adams was close to returning to ``pariah status.″

Pro-British paramilitaries on the Protestant side, who called their own cease-fire in October 1994 six weeks after the IRA truce, met in private Saturday and agreed not to retaliate against Catholic areas.

But many residents feared a return to wider violence.

Catholics gathered for peace prayers at west Belfast’s Clonard Monastery. Many were angry that Britain had barred Sinn Fein from wider negotiations but still could not understand why the IRA had struck.

``I think it’s incredible if the IRA think that this bomb in some way is going to help the republican or nationalist case in negotiations,″ said the Rev. Brian Lennon, a Jesuit priest active in ecumenical work.

``It’s going to do quite the opposite,″ he said. ``It’s going to make it much more difficult for Sinn Fein to negotiate credibly with anyone.″