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Thursday, February 3, 2005; Page A24

IRA Withdraws Offer to Disarm In Blow to Peacemaking Efforts

BELFAST -- The Irish Republican Army on Wednesday withdrew an offer to disarm, dealing a new blow to Anglo-Irish peacemaking efforts in Northern Ireland.

The IRA did not threaten a return to violence, but the move underlined the political deadlock gripping the province since Britain and Ireland accused the group of mounting a massive bank robbery in Belfast in December. The IRA has denied involvement.

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Disarming Northern Ireland

On Tuesday, the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland said the refusal of the IRA to disarm and end paramilitary activities was the only obstacle to the revival of a power-sharing government set up under the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

"We reject this," the IRA said in a statement. "We do not intend to remain quiescent within this unacceptable and unstable situation. It has tried our patience to the limit."

An Anglo-Irish push to restore power-sharing in the province stalled in December over the issue of IRA weapons. The guerrilla group, which since 1997 has been observing a cease-fire in its campaign against British rule, had said it was willing to disarm as part of an overall deal.

But it rejected a demand from Protestant unionists, who support Northern Ireland's political union with Britain, for photographs to be taken of its weapons being destroyed.


• TBILISI, Georgia -- Prime Minister Zurab Zhvaniya was killed early Thursday by an apparent gas leak while at a friend's house, the Georgian interior minister said.

Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said in a live broadcast on Rustavi-2 television that security guards broke through a window when they heard no sign of life inside the friend's home several hours after the prime minister arrived.

Zhvaniya had arrived at the home at about midnight Wednesday, and the guards entered the apartment between 4 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., he said. The friend was also killed, Merabishvili said.

"It is an accident," Merabishvili said. "We can say that poisoning by gas took place."

A longtime politician born in 1963, Zhvaniya was part of the opposition to the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze and played a role in protests that led to Shevardnadze's ouster in November 2003.

• MOSCOW -- A Web site linked to Chechnya's separatist rebels says top leaders of the insurgency have called for a unilateral cease-fire to be observed in February.

The site said Aslan Maskhadov, who was president of Chechnya in the late 1990s, signed an order Jan. 14 for all offensive actions against Russia to be halted in February in Chechnya and bordering areas "as a sign of a display of goodwill." It cited an unnamed aide to Shamil Basayev, another Chechen warlord, as the source.

It also said Basayev had issued an order that all rebels under his command halt offensive actions in Chechnya and all of Russia until Feb. 22. It was not immediately clear why the cease-fire was called or why the two rebel leaders would issue similar but different instructions.

• MAKHACHKALA, Russia -- A top-ranking regional police officer and three bodyguards were gunned down Wednesday in southern Russia, police said. The assassination was the latest attack in the troubled region bordering Chechnya.

Maj. Gen. Magomed Omarov, a deputy interior minister for Dagestan, was driving home from work when unknown assailants attacked, a spokesman for the Dagestan Interior Ministry said.


• BOGOTA, Colombia -- Marxist rebels ambushed and killed eight soldiers in their second deadly blow to the armed forces in two days, the army said.

-- From News Services

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