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BRITISH TARGET N. IRELAND SECURITY LEAKS

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BELFAST, Northern Ireland (Reuters) - Britain has agreed to tighten security in the Northern Ireland police and army to prevent leaks.

But despite Irish protests, Britain is to go ahead with plans to issue plastic bullets to the Ulster Defense Regiment, which is locally recruited and mainly Protestant.A special 12-man British army team is to investigate all future UDR recruits. Furthermore, the distribution of photo-montages of Irish nationalist guerrilla suspects to police and soldiers is to be sharply restricted.

Northern Ireland has been hit by an ever-widening security scandal over the past two months with the leaking of a string of intelligence files on Irish Republican Army suspects. British authorities fear the files may have been leaked by rogue British soldiers and police to Protestant killer gangs fighting to keep the north British.

The scandal has prompted three lengthy meetings over the past month between Britain's Northern Ireland Minister Peter Brooke and Irish Foreign Minister Gerry Collins. In a joint communique after their latest round of talks in Belfast, which lasted 10 hours Wednesday, the two stressed: "Any collusion between members of the security forces and paramilitaries is an issue of the utmost gravity."

Both ministers were swift to praise the 17-man British squad of detectives sent over to probe the leaks, and Collins said he would await its final report before calling for a comprehensive review of the UDR.

However, Brooke told reporters, "I disagreed with Mr. Collins' analysis which is based on the principle that the whole barrel is rotten, whereas we have consistently argued that we are talking about individual rotten apples."

Two UDR soldiers were charged last month with murdering a Catholic who was identified from stolen intelligence files. Both ministers agreed, "There is no place in the security forces for those who betrayed their trust."

On its side, Britain expressed disappointment over Ireland's decision not to prosecute the Rev. Patrick Ryan, a Roman Catholic priest and suspected IRA guerrilla wanted in Britain on explosives charges.

But Ireland was quick to welcome Britain's decision to quash the convictions of four people jailed for life in 1974 for the bombings of two English bars that killed seven people. The British Director of Public Prosecutions has said they were wrongly convicted.