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IRA ACCUSED OF ATTACKS ON OWN PEOPLE

Gavin Smyth and several other teenagers lie in a west Belfast hospital, their limbs slashed and shattered by the nail-spiked cudgels and iron bars of IRA men.

The Irish Republican Army has called a cease-fire against British forces, but in Roman Catholic neighborhoods, its punishment squads continue to bludgeon men and boys implicated in "antisocial behavior."Activists who support those beaten or forced into exile want American officials to raise the issue with Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA's allied Sinn Fein political party, who began a visit to the United States on Saturday.

"They think in America that the IRA only shoots at army and police, but look what they do to their own people," said Ann Smyth, 39, the mother of Gavin and five other boys. "Their gangs are still beating up anyone they like. It makes a laughingstock of the cease-fire."

She had assumed the IRA truce announced Aug. 31 meant the end of the threat to Gavin, who faces trial next month for a car theft and crash last May that left a friend badly injured.

But on Thursday morning, three men forced their way into her home in Andersonstown. One pushed past her into her 16-year-old son's upstairs bedroom, ordered him to dress and shoved him out the front door.

They wouldn't say who they were, but locals and observers agree they were "the Rah," "the Provies" - two common names for the Provisional IRA - who have been doing such work all through the troubles and readily said so before the cease-fire.

"They were big bullies, dedicated hard men," Ann Smyth said, her voice shaking. "Of course they were IRA. No ordinary people would get on like that."

His abductors drove Gavin to a nearby parking lot and broke his legs open with iron bars. A man found him crawling along the gutter about half an hour later.

Doctors haven't determined the extent of his injuries because the swelling is too severe, his mother said. Others taken from their homes in the past week have had wrists broken, ankles shattered or legs gouged with nailed sticks.

The prospect of peace has revived the debate over who should police the IRA's bases in working-class Catholic neighborhoods.

Sinn Fein officials suggest that recent beatings could be the work of people not connected to the IRA, and say dealing with criminals is not part of the cease-fire anyway.