Irish paramilitary group wages internal warfare

A feud between rival factions of the Irish National Liberation Army, an extremist Roman Catholic Republican paramilitary group, has claimed at least 10 lives in the past three months. And Saturday's killings of Gerard Steenson, a founder of the group, and one of his associates, have made it unlikely that the warring hard-line Catholic groups will be willing to negotiate a settlement with each other any time soon. A faction of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) claimed it had killed Mr. Steenson for ``organizing a series of terrible atrocities in our movement'' and triggering an internal struggle within the group.

Steenson was a key figure in Republican paramilitary circles. It is believed that he had gained control of three of four warring factions of the INLA, which is believed to hold to a Marxist philosophy and is seen as ruthless.

Steenson began his career in the early 1970s with the outlawed Irish Republican Army (IRA). In 1975, however, he became a founding member of the INLA, which was formed after the IRA ordered a temporary cease-fire in its campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland and unite the Protestant-dominated province with the Catholic Irish Republic.

Two years ago, after a former INLA member gave evidence against his erstwhile colleagues, Steenson and a number of other INLA men were sentenced to long periods of imprisonment. Steenson was found guilty of killing five members of the security forces and a Protestant extremist. Last December, Steenson and the other INLA members were released after it was ruled that the informer's evidence was unreliable.

Almost immediately, internal warfare broke out. Members of the INLA Army Council ordered other members to disband, believing that the movement had lost its revolutionary ideals and that members were indulging in gangsterism and racketeering. However, the order was ignored and despite several attempts to form a truce, violence has continued.

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