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Thursday, August 5, 1999 Published at 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK


When is a ceasefire not a ceasefire?

Is there a ceasefire or just an armed peace?

By Brian Rowan, BBC Northern Ireland Security Correspondent

The killing of north Belfast man Charles Bennett who was found shot through the head last week has cast fresh doubt over what the IRA claims to be a ceasefire which is 'intact'.

The Sinn Fein leadership says the Bennett family deserves to know the truth about the killing but up to this point the IRA has remained silent.

The Search for Peace

There have been calls from unionist politicians for an end to prisoner releases, and Sinn Fein's suspension from the Assembly.

The security assessment of Charles Bennett's killing is that the IRA was responsible for the murder. But there has been no statement on the killing from that organisation.

It is uncertain whether there will be one given the political fall out which would follow.

Reliable sources have discounted however, the suggestion that Charles Bennett was killed because of allegations that he was a police informer.

The murder raises the difficult question, if the IRA committed this latest killing and is involved in continuing so-called paramilitary punishment attacks, is it actually on ceasefire?

In August 1994 and again in July 1997, when it restored its ceasefire after it had collapsed in February 1996, the IRA announced "a complete cessation of military operations".

Bennett killing not ceasefire breach

But what is meant by a "military operation"?

The IRA would consider a military operation to be an attack on the security forces or loyalists or a bomb attack on what it would term an "economic target".

That would include attacks such as those which took place in Canary Wharf and Manchester in the aftermath of the breakdown of the 1994 ceasefire.

[ image: The shooting of Charles Bennett casts doubt over IRA ceasefire claims]
The shooting of Charles Bennett casts doubt over IRA ceasefire claims
From an IRA perspective, that organisation might not consider the Charles Bennett killing to have been a "military operation".

In October 1994, the Combined Loyalist Military Command said it would "universally cease all operational hostilities", meaning attacks on the nationalist or republican communities.

The different loyalist groups continue to be involved in other types of attacks.

If you look at everything that has happened since those original ceasefires in 1994, the so-called punishment attacks, the killings of alleged drug dealers by the IRA under the cover name of Direct Action against Drugs, and other attacks, political sanctions have been carried out on only two occasions.

Suspension followed sectarian killings

The Ulster Democratic Party was suspended from the talks leading to the Good Friday Agreement, after the UDA admitted involvement in a number of sectarian killings.

Sinn Fein was also suspended from those negotiations for a period of several weeks after the IRA was linked to two murders, including the killing of a loyalist.

There have been calls linked to the continuing punishment attacks for the early prisoner releases, agreed as part of the Good Friday Agreement, to be suspended. That has not happened.

The same demand has been made in the wake of the murder of Charles Bennett.

Meanwhile there have been reports that a new republican dissident group has formed and appointed a so-called "Army Council".

Recently, several reports have suggested a resumption of violence by republican dissidents, but this has not occurred.

In terms of past violent activity and links between the dissidents, it has always been the view of the security forces that the various dissident republican groups, the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA (who placed the Omagh bomb) and the INLA, have worked together on various attacks.

So there has been a relationship in the past, but it is unclear whether this relationship has become more formal.

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