Violent groups straying away from terrorism

Saturday, October 27, 2001

Ever since Sept. 11, rebel groups, separatist organizations and militant political movements in various parts of the world have taken pains to distance themselves from anything resembling terrorism.

The Irish Republican Army has begun to turn over its arms, Chechen rebels are starting peace talks with Russia and Yasser Arafat ordered Palestinian groups to halt suicide attacks.

"Those who are using the killing of civilians to attract attention are maybe rethinking their strategy," said Philip C. Wilcox Jr., president of Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington.

Some armed groups may be trying to avoid American wrath after seeing the airstrikes in Afghanistan, analysts say. Others could be trying to adapt to a new international reality in which terrorism is condemned even more harshly than it had been. And others are thinking hard about their tactics.

"Even terrorists tend to have some concept of limits on what they will do," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Washington-based Lexington Institute. "For many nationalists, what al-Qaida did was just too much, too destructive, to possibly claim the moral high ground."

In a development the terrorists surely never intended, the aftermath of the attacks appear to be pushing some long-festering conflicts toward resolution.

IRA lays down arms

On Tuesday, the Irish Republican Army said it had begun to lay down its arms after decades of battling British soldiers and bombing commercial centers, including devastating explosions in the capital's financial district, known as the City of London. Supporters conceded the terrorist attacks in the United States played a role.

"The IRA couldn't dream of mounting another bomb spectacular against the City of London," a senior negotiator for the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. "If it ever was an option, it no longer could be after Sept. 11."

Russian President Vladimir Putin saw Sept. 11 as an opportunity to put the lingering war in Chechnya behind him. In a speech outlining Russia's response he invited the rebels -- with whom he had refused to negotiate since the conflict rekindled in 1999 -- to come to the table.

Analysts say Putin hopes the new international climate will help pressure the rebels to accept a resolution he considers favorable.

The pro-independence rebels, who had already indicated their willingness to negotiate, accepted immediately, and said Wednesday that talks would begin within 10 days. Although prospects for real peace remain distant, the events since Sept. 11 represent the best hope in years.

Even the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which has been resistant to almost every world event for decades, has been affected by the attacks.

After Sept. 11, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat quickly declared a cease-fire with Israel, and his police used guns, clubs and tear gas to battle Palestinians demonstrating in favor of Osama bin Laden.

Israeli targets spared

Although militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad didn't sign onto the cease-fire, their attacks against Israeli targets have fallen off noticeably, and neither group has carried out a single suicide bombing since Sept. 11.

"Hamas and Islamic Jihad have become more sensitive to trying to avoid the kind of activities which might label them more as being terrorists," said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian political analyst.

When the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the Oct. 17 killing of ultranationalist Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, Arafat's officers arrested 20 members of the group, although Israel has said they haven't arrested those responsible for the killing.

Nearby in Lebanon, the guerrilla group Hezbollah -- which has been accused of links to al-Qaida -- condemned the Sept. 11 attacks and dramatically cut back on attacking Israeli forces. Hezbollah leaders deny the two events are related.

"Hezbollah does not accept the killing of innocent civilians," said Abdullah Kassir, one of nine Hezbollah legislators in the Lebanese parliament.

Most armed groups from Mexico to Manila have taken pains to condemn the terrorist attacks, with some even calling the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan justified.

Mexico's Popular Revolutionary Army said it was "profoundly moved by the deaths of civilians" while the Philippines' Moro Islamic Liberation Front condemned "this cowardly and terroristic act."

Some are oblivious

Of course, many rebel struggles -- perhaps most -- continue unabated, seemingly oblivious to the new focus on terrorism by the world community.

In Colombia, several guerrilla groups and a paramilitary force have continued to fight among one another and against the government, setting off bombs and kidnapping civilians for ransom, as they have for decades.

The Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in the Philippines, accused by the United States of having links to bin Laden, are still battling government forces.

And in Spain, the separatist group Basque Homeland and Freedom, known by its Basque acronym ETA, has continued to set off car bombs.

Wilcox said any general shift away from terrorism in response to the Sept. 11 attacks will most likely be temporary, because there will always be conflicts and there will always be evil people.

"Terrorism has been an evil of society since the beginning of time," he said. "There will always be terrorism."

Jason Keyser in Jerusalem, Sarah Karush in Moscow and other Associated Press writers in Asia, Europe and Latin America contributed to this report.

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