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No Sinn Fein in talks? Maybe, Irish chief hints

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern signaled Saturday that the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party could be ejected from Northern Ireland's peace talks when they move here next week.

Sinn Fein was admitted to the negotiations after the Irish Republican Army declared a cease-fire in July 1997.But a pair of killings in Northern Ireland this week has given Ahern second thoughts about Sinn Fein's participation in the talks.

"If the facts are such that the IRA are involved, then it is a very serious matter - and the process is fairly clear," Ahern said Saturday in advance of talks in Dublin, which are set for Monday through Wednesday.

"I don't really have all the facts. But I have to say, to be quite honest, the facts that I have are very worrying," he said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the killings of alleged drug dealer Brendan Campbell on Monday and Protestant militant Robert Dougan the following day. The IRA issued a vague statement Thursday saying its truce was "intact" but did not deny it was involved in the slayings.

On Friday, however, the British government accepted the assessment of Northern Ireland's police chief that the IRA was behind both killings.

Three weeks ago, the British and Irish governments, which co-sponsor the talks, expelled political representatives of the north's major pro-British paramilitary group after police linked it to three killings of Catholics.

The talks chairman, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, requires participants to "actively oppose" violence or face exclusion.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams spent Saturday planning strategy with the party's executive in its north Dublin headquarters.

Adams said he hoped other parties and the governments would let him stay involved - but Sinn Fein might take legal action if it was ordered out.