Ireland urges Britain against prosecution ban for N.Ireland army veterans

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The Irish government has urged Britain against taking unilateral action to shield former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the UK province's sectarian conflict from facing prosecution, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported late on Wednesday that the British government is set to introduce a ban on prosecutions of Northern Ireland veterans under new legislation to be announced next week.

Dublin had strongly advised London "against any unilateral action on such sensitive issue," the spokesman for Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Thursday.

The province's Irish nationalist deputy first minister also said any such move by London would not be acceptable.

Allegations over unresolved crimes from Northern Ireland's 'Troubles' - three decades of sectarian confrontation between Irish nationalist militants, pro-British "loyalist" paramilitaries and British military that killed around 3,600 people - remain a contentious issue 23 years after a peace deal was struck.

A ban on prosecutions could add to tensions in the British-run region, where young pro-British loyalists rioted in recent weeks, partly over post-Brexit trade barriers that they feel have cut them off from the rest of the UK.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, whose Sinn Fein party heads up Northern Ireland's devolved power-sharing government with their former pro-Britain foes, said a ban on prosecutions would be "a cynical move that will put British forces beyond the law."

Such an amnesty would be "another slap in the face to victims," O'Neill said on Twitter late on Wednesday.

A murder trial of two ex-British soldiers accused of shooting dead an Irish Republican Army commander collapsed this week.

A separate trial of a soldier accused of murdering 13 unarmed Catholic civil rights marchers in Londonderry in 1972, when British paratroopers opened fire on the group on what became known as on "Bloody Sunday", is ongoing.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by John Stonestreet)

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