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Brown in peace pledge as Irish terror worries Britain

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : A day after terrorists killed a policeman in Northern Ireland within days of the murder of two soldiers, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown Tuesday vowed not to allow dissident gunmen to sink the province into the kind of violence that racked it until a decade ago.

“These are murderers who are trying to distort, disrupt and destroy a political process that is working for the people of Northern Ireland,” Brown declared after a police officer was shot dead Monday night by dissident Catholic terrorists.

“They will never be allowed to destroy or undermine the political process. There will be no return to the old days,” the British prime minister added.

The police officer was shot dead in a Catholic part of Craigavon town of Northern Ireland – a province that has seen peace return in recent years after decades of sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics.

The policeman’s slaying followed the killing of two unarmed soldiers in their barracks in the town of Antrim Saturday, but Brown said the Northern Irish people “do not want a return to guns on the street”.

Although the violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland is often sectarian in nature, it is also political.

Catholics are in a minority in Northern Ireland, and their main representative party, the Sinn Fein, has historically favoured the reunification of the British-ruled province with the bordering Republic of Ireland, where Catholics are the majority.

But this demand for secession is strongly opposed by the majority Protestants of Northern Ireland, who swear allegiance to the British monarchy.

Although both sides disbanded their main armed groups, including the Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA), and agreed to weapons decommissioning under a peace process that began in 1998, there are dissident terrorist groups that oppose the peace process.

Today, the two major political parties of the province – Sinn Fein and the Protestants’ Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – share power in a regional assembly that was revived in 1999 after 27 years of direct rule by London.

Now, many Britons fear, the peace process may be unravelling.

“We are tonight staring into the abyss. I would appeal to people to pull back,” said Dolores Kelly of the Sinn Fein’s moderate rival, Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

Two separate Catholic dissident terrorist groups claimed responsibility for the two attacks – the Real IRA, which is opposed to the power-sharing arrangement, said it had killed the two soldiers Saturday night, describing its victims as “collaborators of British rule in Ireland”.

Two other soldiers and the two pizza deliverymen were seriously wounded in the assault.

A second splinter group known as the Continuity IRA claimed responsibility for the police officer’s killing – the first since the formation of the province’s police force in 2001.

Significantly, veteran Catholic leader and Sinn Fein head Gerry Adams said the killing of the soldiers was “an attempt to subvert the peace process, an attempt to bring everybody back to conflict, to bring more British soldiers onto the streets – and we are not going to allow that to happen”.