The Irish Republican Army has for the first time apologized for the deaths of civilians killed during its 30-year campaign to end British Rule in Northern Ireland.
In a statement sent to news organizations the largely Roman Catholic group noted that July 21 is the 30th anniversary of the Bloody Friday attack that killed nine people and left many others wounded in Belfast. The statement said that in its attacks the group had no intention of killing or injuring what it called noncombatants. But, it acknowledged that in reality this was a direct consequence of its actions.
The IRA called it appropriate that with the approaching anniversary of what it termed this tragic event, it should address all of the deaths and injuries its actions had caused. It then offered the group's sincere apologies and condolences to the families of the victims.
The statement reaffirmed the IRA's commitment to the current peace process in Northern Ireland and the need for dealing with the challenges it presents. It said this includes acceptance of past mistakes and the pain it has caused to others.
The 1998 Good Friday Peace accord halted most of the violence in Northern Ireland. But tensions persist over the lack of progress toward disarming the IRA and armed Protestant paramilitary groups.
Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid welcomed the statement as British officials stressed the importance of preventing such deaths in the future.
But spokesman Jeffrey Donaldson for Northern Ireland's Unionist Party, which favors maintaining ties with Britain, called the apology halfhearted and said it does not go far enough.
The three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland has killed an estimated 3,600 people. About half of the deaths are are attributed to IRA attacks.