Facing a security crackdown and public revulsion, the IRA dissidents who killed 28 people with a car bomb attack announced a suspension of their violence Wednesday as bereaved families began to bury more of the dead.
But the British and Irish governments said the "Real IRA's" statement would not deter police from hunting down and punishing the killers who planted Saturday's bomb in Omagh, the bloodiest attack in Northern Ireland's history."We are talking about evil and depraved people. It is hard to take seriously any comment they make," said Mary Harney, deputy prime minister of the Irish Republic.
Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam on Wednesday welcomed the splinter group's announcement but said it was too little, too late.
"On the day 16 victims are buried, I think it's an insult to believe words mean anything," she said. "We will prosecute them, and we will put them away for a very long time."
The Real IRA's statement stopped short of announcing a formal cease-fire. But it cited widespread public horror and an appeal from Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern as a reason to "suspend" attacks indefinitely and begin "a process of consultation on our future direction."
"Please God, let this be genuine," said Joe Byrne, the leading Catholic politician in Omagh, 70 miles west of Belfast. He visited the homes of seven families grieving lost loved ones, many of whom were to be buried Wednesday.
The dissidents earlier claimed they hadn't meant to kill anyone but only to cause damage to "commercial" targets in the religiously mixed town.
That provoked Ahern - who was in the Irish seaside town of Buncrana, where three child victims of the bombing were to be buried Wedmesday - to demand immediate declarations of cease-fires from the Real IRA and other groups refusing to join the Irish Republican Army's July 1997 truce.
In Buncrana, 8,000 mourners bade an anguished farewell to the town's three lost boys - James Barker and Shaun McLaughlin, both 12, and Oran Doherty, 8.