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Irish Police Search for IRA Victims

May 31, 1999

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Irish police and forensics specialists promised Monday to keep digging ``as long as it takes″ to find eight unmarked graves of Irish Republican Army victims.

Excavations of two sites near the Irish Republic’s border with British-ruled Northern Ireland began Saturday, shortly after the outlawed IRA provided information on the likely locations to a British-Irish commission.

The IRA apparently dug up the remains of a ninth victim and left them in a new casket Friday at a remote border location before notifying a local Catholic priest.

Police, who this week began digging at a third site south of Dublin and intend to start soon at two other remote spots in the Irish Republic, warn that results are not guaranteed anywhere.

``Nothing has been found yet, and we feel it may be a long process because of some of the terrain we are having to deal with,″ police Superintendent John Farrelly said.

He noted that four sites identified by the IRA were bogland that would have to be drained, while a fifth was ``a vast wooded area.″ The likely deterioration of remains of people, all abducted and killed from 1972 to 1981, made the effort even less certain.

``It will go on as long as it takes,″ he said.

The site receiving most public attention is an isolated beach midway between Belfast and Dublin, where the IRA says it buried 37-year-old Jean McConville back in 1972. The IRA branded the Belfast homemaker a spy, while her relatives say she was punished for giving first aid to a British soldier shot outside her home.

The woman’s 10 children _ who were consigned to separate foster homes and barely know each other today _ had an emotional reunion Sunday at the site, where jackhammers and a backhoe were used to break through a parking lot built on part of the beach about 10 years ago.

By Monday, Mrs. McConville’s son-in-law Seamus McKendry _ who leads Families of the Disappeared, the pressure group that spurred the IRA move _ said he was increasingly worried that the search might prove futile. Engineers had already dug up most of the parking lot and gone down up to 15 feet.

``At least we know this much, that this was her final resting place,″ McKendry said in a telephone interview, noise from machinery and crashing waves in the background.

Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party and a reputed former IRA commander, said relatives of missing people had suffered ``a great injustice.″ But he said the IRA killings were no worse than the killing of Serb civilians by British jets taking part in NATO’s air strikes on Yugoslavia.

``These things happen in war. ... Horrible things are done,″ Adams told the BBC.

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