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Concern over new IRA warning

• Overview: Breaking the cycle
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• Timeline: Decades of violence
Is the Irish Republican Army justified in withdrawing its offer to decommission its weapons?
Northern Ireland

LONDON, England -- The Irish Republican Army has warned the British and Irish governments not to underestimate the current crisis in Northern Ireland's peace process.

Just 24 hours after the IRA withdrew its last offer to put weapons beyond use, a senior republican source accused London and Dublin of downplaying the importance of the statement.

"The two governments are trying to play down the importance of our statement because they are making a mess of the peace process," the statement said.

"Do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation."

While republicans would not elaborate further on the IRA's words, observers said they were bound to cause concern in Belfast, London and Dublin, resurrecting the specter of a return to violence.

Republican sources suggested there was deep concern in their communities about attempts to criminalize the IRA and claimed the process was facing its gravest crisis since the organization's first cease-fire broke down in February 1996 with the Canary Wharf bombing.

But nationalist and unionist politicians accused the IRA of attempting to bully the people of Northern Ireland, the two governments and all democratic parties.

Nationalist SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the IRA was threatening the future of the peace process. "The IRA is coming close to saying 'don't dare criticize us or question us or the peace process gets it,'" the Foyle Assembly Member said.

The IRA released its statement on Thursday night after police chiefs blamed it for carrying out the $50 million Northern Bank robbery in Belfast in December.

The heist effectively shattered any hopes of reviving a deal to restore power-sharing.

The IRA has consistently denied the claims of Chief Constable Hugh Orde and government ministers in London and Dublin who said it was responsible for the record bank robbery.

Political analysts had expected little movement before May's expected British election and Northern Ireland's volatile summer "marching season," in which parades by Protestant organizations inflame sectarian passions.

Now, many observers believe the prospects of sealing a lasting political settlement have receded even further.

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