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IRA IDs Victims Burial Places

March 30, 1999

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Seamus McKendry spent five years campaigning to shame the Irish Republican Army into admitting it killed his mother-in-law, and revealing where they buried her way back in 1972.

The IRA announced Monday night that they had determined where their members buried Jean McConville and eight other people _ a surprise gesture designed to bury an embarrassing issue for the outlawed organization and its legal party, Sinn Fein.

The IRA made the announcement the same day that the British and Irish prime ministers arrived for talks and at a time when the outlawed group has faced concerted pressure to start disarming in support of Northern Ireland’s nearly year-old peace accord. The IRA and Sinn Fein insisted the timing was coincidental.

Though the Good Friday accord envisioned that the IRA should completely disarm by May 2000 _ something the IRA insists will never happen _ it didn’t specify when the IRA was expected to start the process.

That vagueness has helped to thwart the accord’s central objective: a new Protestant-Catholic government for Northern Ireland. The British government wants the 12-member government formed by this Good Friday, but Protestant politicians insist that Sinn Fein politicians won’t be entitled to hold two posts in the government unless the IRA starts disarming first, a condition that has ensured months of deadlock.

Prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Bertie Ahern of Ireland arrived in Northern Ireland late Monday in hopes that their intervention would resolve the issue.

They both launched into separate meetings with Sinn Fein and the major Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists. But after his session with Blair, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble _ who would lead the future government _ said the British leader had brought no fresh proposals.

And Ahern said that while he was prepared ``to give it a shot,″ he wasn’t sure that anything he could say would move either the Ulster Unionists or Sinn Fein.

Ahern did, however, welcome the IRA’s disclosure of its secret burials of victims as likely to have ``a positive impact on the political atmosphere this week. ... It is, at least, a welcome and concrete movement on their part.″

The IRA said it was ``sorry that this has taken so long and for the prolonged anguish caused to the families.″

But an accompanying IRA statement excused the ``executions″ of all nine, including McConville _ a widow whose 11 children ended up in orphanages after her disappearance _ on the grounds they allegedly had stolen IRA weaponry or spied on behalf of the police and British army against the IRA.

The half-apology, half-slur disgusted McKendry. The pressure group he founded, Families for the Disappeared, has campaigned on behalf of 19 families who blamed the IRA for missing relatives. The IRA denied involvement in the 10 other deaths.

``It’s just so callous of them, so graceless,″ said McKendry, who like the other eight families hopes soon to receive word of where their relatives’ remains lie.

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