- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

BELFAST (AP) The Irish Republican Army issued an unprecedented apology yesterday for the deaths of "noncombatants" during 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.
The British government quickly welcomed the statement, noting the strength of the apology, which comes at a time when the peace process forged in 1998 is under severe strain because of continuing sectarian violence.
The IRA made the apology in a statement marking the anniversary of Bloody Friday, when the outlawed organization set off more than 20 bombs within an hour in Belfast on July 21, 1972, killing seven civilians and two soldiers.
Although the IRA has previously stated its regret for individual acts, it had not issued as sweeping an apology. The statement said the step aimed to improve the climate for the peace process.
Pointing to Bloody Friday, the statement said that "while it was not our intention to injure or kill noncombatants, the reality is that on this and on a number of other occasions, that was the consequence of our actions."
"It is, therefore, appropriate on the anniversary of this tragic event, that we address all of the deaths and injuries of noncombatants caused by us," it said.
"We offer our sincere apologies and condolences to their families."
The IRA also acknowledged the grief of the families of slain combatants police, soldiers and loyalist paramilitaries.
It said the future would not be found in "denying collective failures and mistakes or closing minds and hearts to the plight of those who had been hurt. That includes all of the victims of the conflict, combatants and noncombatants."
"It will not be achieved by creating a hierarchy of victims in which some are deemed more or less worthy than others," the statement said.
It also said the process of conflict resolution required the acknowledgment of the grief and loss of others.
Britain's top Northern Ireland official, John Reid, welcomed "the unprecedented strength of the apology."
"We welcome this statement as an acknowledgment of the grief and pain suffered," he said, "but the best way to acknowledge the past pain is to make sure the people of Northern Ireland have the confidence that events like this will never happen again."
Of the more than 3,600 people killed in political-sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, Britain and the Republic of Ireland since 1968, the IRA and rival anti-British groups were responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000.

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