By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Relations within the republican movement worsened last week with the IRA warning dissidents to return "stolen" weapons and dissidents accusing the IRA of abducting and interrogating people about their opposition to the Good Friday peace agreement.
The IRA statement, the second of the week on the subject, warned republicans who "stole" material from its arms dumps that they are guilty of treachery and should return misappropriated weapons immediately — then disband.
In a briefing given in Belfast, an IRA spokesman denied claims made by the 32 County Sovereignty movement that dissidents had been questioned only about political matters and not "misappropriated" weapons.
IRA sources claimed that Tyrone republican Paddy Fox was questioned last week because he was suspected of taking guns from IRA arms dumps. Fox was bundled into a car at the Four Seasons Hotel in Monaghan town and was discovered in a forest nine hours later badly beaten.
Republican sources claim he is now aligned with the so-called Real IRA, which was responsible for last August’s bombing in Omagh that killed 29, and was questioned during the nine hours of his abduction only about missing weapons. Fox’s friends and family have denied he’s involved in any dissident group, although he opposes the current republican leadership strategy.
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The IRA spokesman, without naming Fox, said: "Those who have been arrested by us have been questioned about misappropriated weapons."
"To portray the IRA as questioning people about their political analysis in these cases is absolute nonsense," the spokesman said. "Their arrests had nothing to do with their political views and solely with the misappropriation of weapons."
The spokesman refused to say what kind of weapons, explosives or guns, had been taken. He did say a "substantial proportion of what was taken has been retrieved." He also said that the IRA’s investigations would continue until all the missing weapons have been retrieved.
The IRA’s Green Book, General Order 11, reads "Any volunteer who seizes or is party to the seizure of arms, ammunition or explosives which are being held under Army control, shall be deemed guilty of treachery.
"A duly constituted court martial shall try all cases. Penalty for breach of this order: Death. As in all other cases of the death penalty, sentence must be ratified by the Army Council."
The IRA appears to be in a dilemma, in that if it carries out the obligatory penalty for misappropriation of weapons, it risks being accused of breaking its cease-fire.
Republican sources say Fox may have been treated leniently because of sympathy for a man whose two elderly parents, Charles and Theresa, were murdered in 1992.
Fox appeared in a television documentary last week, heavily bruised about the face, with two black eyes, claiming he had been attacked because of his opposition to the Good Friday agreement.
The program also showed video footage of Continuity IRA men working on a "blooper" grenade launcher. Security has been stepped up in Britain in what was called a "routine" tightening of precautions against republican bombing missions.
The IRA spokesman said its position on decommissioning had not changed. He also denied reports carried in a Dublin Sunday newspaper last week that the organization had been involved in an abortive security van raid in Dalkey.
The issue of the stolen weapons appeared in last week’s An Phoblacht/Republican News, where the IRA said some of its weapons had been stolen from its arms dumps by members who quit the organization more than a year ago and accused them of removing the weapons in secret before they left.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 5, the 32 County Sovereignty Committee issued a statement calling for a halt to threats against those who criticize the Good Friday agreement, accusing the IRA of instigating attacks on people for political reasons, not because of missing weapons.
It said the victims of threats and political abductions had not been questioned about anything other than their political beliefs and the names of others critical of what it called the "Stormont Deal."
It urged "responsible elements within the wider republican family" to join in halting this campaign before "a greater tragedy develops."