Two Irish Republican Army guerrillas were reported close to blindness yesterday as a result of a 52-day long hunger strike aimed at forcing the British government to grant them political prisoner status.

The two are among 40 Provisional IRA prisoners on a fast until death at Northern Ireland's Maze Prison, causing tension to rise again in this troubled British province.

At issue is whether the men wear routine prison uniforms or civilian clothes in the prison. For more than a year, all IRA prisoners have refused to wear any clothing, covering themselves in blankets.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher vowed not to give in to the fasters' demands and seemingly acknowledged the possibility of renewed sectarian violence. She said the strikers would be responsible for any "needless suffering of other innocent people."

Prison officers said a prisoner identified as 26-year-old Sean McKenna and another man, not identified, were close to blindness as a result of their hunger strike.

For the last five days, six Protestant extremists in the prison were also on a hunger strike demanding political prisoner status, but yesterday they called their protest off on orders of the Ulster Defense Association, the paramilitary force to which they belong.