Bomb found just before talks start

THE first bomb to be discovered in Northern Ireland since the IRA cease-fire was found outside a furniture shop in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh yesterday, just hours before Sinn Fein was due to hold its second round of talks with the British Government.

Whoever left the device, which showed skill in its manufacture, told the security forces it was there, something that has not always happened.

It was safely disposed of by security forces in a controlled explosion causing little damage to the town centre store. The bomb consisted of about a kilogram of the powerful Czech-manufactured commercial explosive Semtex with five litres of petrol attached.

That makes it a blast incendiary, often used in the past by the IRA. Up to now only the IRA has had access to Semtex.

Stores have often been targeted for incendiary attack - earlier this year a series of shops across the province were bombed in one evening.

But the warning did not name any organisation and nor was any codeword given, the usual sign of authenticity that it came from a paramilitary organisation.

The attack came on the eve of the second round of talks between Government officials and Sinn Fein and within hours of a warning by party president Gerry Adams that these meetings would not resolve the issue of decommissioning weapons.

The IRA denied it was responsible for the bomb and, given the cease-fire, any involvement of mainstream IRA units is unlikely. But an attack by a rogue or freelance group cannot be ruled out. Loyalist leaders accuse the IRA of playing a double game and seeking to intimidate the British government.

One fear of the security authorities is that if the talks stall then a splinter group or even the IRA may set off another large bomb in London to keep up the pressure.

The security spokesman for the Ulster Unionists, Ken Maguinness, said he was in no doubt who was behind the attack. He believed it was a move designed to pressurise the British Government into making concessions to the Republicans.

'I have been predicting since long before the actual cease-fire started that the IRA will use this tactic.

'They had hoped of course that the Loyalist paramilitaries would give them the excuse for doing so but that is not the case now. They are going to rely on breakaway groups but it is a well orchestrated nudging of Government as the IRA/Sinn Fein move into another round of exploratory talks.' He added: 'Sooner or later the IRA is going to step up its level if intimidation and then Government is going to have to steel itself, it is going to have to be able to withstand criticism that comes from some quarters and say to the IRA, 'No we don't play the game like that'.' Meanwhile, two men were in hospital in Belfast yesterday suffering wounds from punishment beatings by Republican groups in West Belfast over the weekend, another indication in the eyes of the security authorities that the IRA still wants to retain its grip on the Republican population.