updated 10/11/2009 1:09:57 PM ET 2009-10-11T17:09:57

The Irish National Liberation Army, an IRA splinter group responsible for some of the most notorious killings of the Northern Ireland conflict, said Sunday it is formally renouncing violence and plans to hand over weapons to disarmament officials.

Two officials — one a member of the outlawed paramilitary group, the other a member of its Marxist political party — told The Associated Press that the INLA is making both commitments 11 years after declaring a shaky cease-fire.

Both officials spoke on condition they not be named because the peace commitments are being unveiled publicly at a commemoration service in Bray, south of Dublin, later Sunday.

The ceremony honors the 32nd anniversary of the murder of INLA founder Seamus Costello, who was gunned down by an IRA member in Dublin in October 1977.

The officials said the announcement was not timed to coincide with Sunday's visit to Dublin and Belfast by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But the INLA move was widely seen as a shot in the arm for Northern Ireland's largely successful peace process, which has already delivered IRA disarmament and a Catholic-Protestant government in Northern Ireland.

‘Exclusively peaceful means’
The officials said the statement, to be read by a member of the INLA-linked Irish Republican Socialist Party, would commit the underground group to observe "exclusively peaceful means" and to deliver weaponry to Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, leader of an international commission that oversees the disarmament of illegal groups.

The INLA was born amid bloody internal feuding within Irish Republican Army circles in Belfast, Londonderry and Dublin in the mid-1970s. The new splinter group's leaders proclaimed devotion to Marxism and hostility to the burgeoning political realism of some IRA leaders.

The INLA sought to usurp the IRA as the major anti-British paramilitary group in Northern Ireland and, chiefly in the early 1980s, committed high-profile and mass killings that upstaged the much larger IRA.

The INLA in March 1979 became the only paramilitary group to kill a British lawmaker within the grounds of Parliament in London, when it used a booby-trap bomb to kill Airey Neave, the Northern Ireland adviser to Margaret Thatcher, as he drove his car out of the lawmakers' parking lot.

The group, under the command of former IRA hit man Dominic "Mad Dog" McGlinchey, in December 1982 bombed a Northern Ireland disco frequented by British troops. Eleven soldiers and six Protestant women were killed. The following year it machine-gunned a rural Protestant gospel hall during Sunday service, killing three men.

The INLA soon unraveled amid fratricidal feuds driven by control over criminal rackets and money, and a succession of its commanders were killed by colleagues. Often, its top targets were members of rival anti-British gangs.

Good Friday accord of 1998
The last major INLA killing was the December 1997 assassination in Northern Ireland's main prison of Billy "King Rat" Wright, the commander of an anti-Catholic paramilitary group called the Loyalist Volunteer Force. Protestant extremists responded to Wright's murder — by INLA prisoners using two smuggled handguns — by slaying nearly a dozen Catholic civilians across Northern Ireland.

After the British and Irish governments and rival Catholic and Protestant parties achieved the Good Friday accord of 1998, the INLA announced it would observe an open-ended truce — not because it supported the peace pact, but because it recognized there was no longer sufficient Catholic support for "armed struggle."

The INLA cease-fire has proved leaky at best, reflecting the group's rival factions in Dublin and Belfast and its deep involvement in a range of criminal rackets, including drugs, counterfeit goods and smuggled cigarettes. INLA gunmen have killed or wounded more than two dozen civilians, mostly criminal rivals, in both parts of Ireland over the past decade.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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