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Northern Ireland militant splinter group says it will end violent campaign

BELFAST (Reuters) - A small Northern Irish nationalist paramilitary group that has carried out bombings and shootings over the past decade called an end on Tuesday to its armed campaign against British rule of the province.

“With immediate effect we will suspend all armed actions against the British State,” Oglaigh na hEireann, which was formed more than 10 years ago by senior ex-members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), said in a statement.

“While ONH accept that the right of the Irish People to use armed disciplined force to end the violation of Irish National Sovereignty is unquestionable ... our review has concluded that at this time the environment is not conducive to armed conflict.”

The group, whose name translates loosely as “Soldiers of Ireland”, is one of a handful of former IRA splinter groups that rejected the 1998 Good Friday peace deal, which ended three decades of conflict known as “The Troubles”.

During the conflict, the Provisional IRA carried out shootings and bombings to pressure the British government into relinquishing Northern Ireland. Mainly Protestant unionist paramilitaries, who supported continued rule by Britain, also carried out attacks.

The IRA has since disarmed, and its former political wing Sinn Fein has spent most of the past decade serving in a power-sharing provincial government with the main unionist party.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams welcomed the announcement that ONH was now rejecting violence.

“There can be no excuse or justification for the continued existence and operation of armed groups either unionist or republican,” Adams said in a statement. “I call on all groups engaged in violent actions to desist, disband and to embrace the path of peaceful politics.”

ONH has claimed responsibility for a number of high-profile attacks, including a car bomb that severely disabled Catholic police officer Peadar Heffron in 2010. During The Troubles, nationalist paramilitaries considered Catholics who joined the police to be traitors.

In March 2013 the group left a bomb with 60 kilograms of explosives near a hotel where G8 leaders were due to meet three months later.

It also targeted British army barracks and police stations in Northern Ireland, and carried out “punishment shootings”, usually non-lethal shots to the leg of young men and boys.

In the two decades since the Good Friday agreement, a number of ex-IRA splinter factions have continued to carry out attacks, although far less frequently than before the peace deal. The deadliest took place just months after the agreement: the Omagh bombing in August 1998 that killed 29 people and wounded 220 others, carried out by a group calling itself the Real IRA.

Reporting by Amanda Ferguson; Editing by Conor Humphries and Peter Graff