The mainstream Provisional IRA leadership has denied it authorised the alleged abduction of a well-known Republican dissident from a Belfast pub at the weekend.

In a statement, An Phoblacht today said it has been told by republican sources that "the IRA did not authorise any action against Bobby Tohill".

A number of masked men were widely reported to have attacked Mr Tohill and taken him from Kelly's Cellars bar on Friday evening.

The PSNI claimed it then stopped a van in west Belfast and liberated Mr Tohill. Four men were charged on Saturday with beating and kidnapping Mr Tohill, and possessing items of use to terrorists, namely pepper spray, boiler suits and metal clubs. However, none were charged with IRA membership.

But the allegations of mainstream IRA activity have again dominated talks in Dublin, London and Belfast. The increased tension in political circles was not defused when the man involved, Bobby Tohill, denied that he had been kidnapped.

Mr Tohill told the west Belfast Andersonstown News that he would not be making any complaint against four men arrested at the scene. The case against the four is now expected to collapse.

The well-known dissident accused the British government of using him as a political pawn.

Two hours before his alleged abduction, the 45-year-old told a reporter he was being targeted by both "IRA elements" and loyalists. He had also been told he was being watched by the PSNI police. But in his latest comments on the matter, he described Friday's incident as a fallout from an argument while drinking.

He denied a report in the Sunday World in which he was quoted as accusing the IRA of kidnapping him with a view to killing him. "A newspaper photographer gained access to my room on Saturday and took my picture while I was drugged", he said.

"What I can remember is arguing and then fighting in Kelly's Cellars", he said. "The PSNI have been hassling me to make a statement, but the only one Ill be giving is to my solicitor saying I will not press charges."

He added: "All I want is to be left in peace and get on with a normal life -- something that I haven't had since first getting caught up in the conflict as a 12-year-old boy.

But Mr Tohill's denials were dismissed as the words of a man who had been urged or coerced into changing his story. Unionists again called for Sinn Féin to be excluded from the current review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The Irish and British governments have made it clear that no mechanism exists for any party to be excluded. This provoked Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble today to threaten to pull out of the review if Sinn Féin remained.

At the same time the British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons that "action will have to follow" if the mainstream IRA is implicated in the kidnapping.

He said Sinn Féin and the IRA they could not be allowed to talk about human rights one day, and then start beating human rights out of people the next.

But government officials have pointed out that it would be pointless to exclude people from a review which is there to address problems in the peace process.

Earlier British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy declared that the incident amounted to a breach of last year's Joint Declaration by the two governments.

However, the only section of the Joint Declaration so far implemented wis the establishment of the International Monitoring Commission, a body set up chiefy to monitor IRA activity.

Yesterday the Irish and British governments announced that the Commission would examine the events surrounding the alleged abduction. Its first report is being brought forward from July to May.

Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy hit out at Murphy's remarks.

"It is not lost on nationalists that Mr Murphy is very quick to deem these events a breach of the Joint Declaration when his government have failed to either implement it or the subsequent sequence agreed last October.

"It is also not lost on nationalists that Mr Murphy is quick to bring the IMC into play and to encourage them to report early to coincide with an election campaign. This confirms our view of the IMC. It is outside the terms of the Agreement and is as was predicted simply a British mechanism to try and dilute the Sinn Féin mandate. How many events involving the unionist paramilitaries or crown forces has Mr Murphy rushed to report to the IMC?

"Mr Murphy is attempting to provide further camouflage to cover the British Government's suspension of the institutions on bogus grounds and their failure to reinstate them. Paul Murphy, like Hugh Orde, now appears to be feeding into the anti-Sinn Féin and anti-peace process agenda."

The incident was also being used in Dublin to increase pressure on Sinn Féin to cut its ties with armed republicanism.

The Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern meets Sinn Féin leaders for the first time since the the incident took place tonight. Earlier today, he said the time for all forms of paramilitarism to come to an end was "long past".

Mr Ahern told the Dail it appeared that Mr Tohill had been abducted last week with the intention of taking him across the border and executing him.

He added: "I am not in the lecturing mode, but I will outline that these kind of activities cannot go on with normal political activities."

Hardline unionist Ian Paisley, leader of the DUP, accused both governments of "acting like weaklings, scraping and crawling to get some excuses why the IRA will not be held to account".

He said at Stormonts Parliament Buildings outside Belfast: "I say to the people of Northern Ireland from this hall today the two governments are not prepared to deal with the IRA."

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson said if the government wanted to present an order in council at Westminster they could do it.

"They could do it within 24 hours... you could have the legal basis for excluding Sinn Féin from the review talks. It is a simple procedure", he said.

British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy held a meeting with Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness yesterday before having talks with a Sinn Féin delegation. The atmosphere was described as blunt and plain speaking.

Afterwards, he said that he had raised in the strongest terms his concerns about a political agenda being pursued by elements within the PSNI and the British system.

Mr McGuinness said: "There is an anti-Sinn Féin and anti-peace process agenda at work. These people need to be brought to account.

"I also raised with Brian Cowen the irresponsible comments made by Michael McDowell which will be seized on by anti-agreement elements within unionism."

He said Sinn Féin was going to continue with its work, and the political representatives of the people should buckle down to the difficult issues of restoring the institutions and ensure the type of changes promised in the Good Friday Agreement take place: "I believe the IRA is rock solid behind the process and they want the process to work."

Mr McGuinness added: "One thing you need to be absolutely assured of... whatever happened on Friday night... Sinn Féin was not involved in it, and had no hand, act or part, in what happened.

"The IRA, and the incident itself, all of that is a matter now for another process, albeit a legal process."

Mr McGuinness added that they should not allow it to impact in a detrimental way on the need to continue with the work of peace. Mr McGuinness said he was conscious that a number of people had been before the courts and he was not going to say or do anything which would in any way prejudice the prospects of a fair trial.

"We need to live in a society where people are regarded as innocent until they are actually proven guilty", he said.

"I am also conscious that the PSNI, the RUC in the past, and unionist politicians have raised issues and tried to use these issues to subvert and undermine the peace process, and that subsequently the allegations that were made were proven to be false."

Mr McGuinness added: "Sinn Féin are absolutely and totally opposed to all forms of violence. That is our position."

Speaking on his way to a meeting with the Taoiseach in Dublin this evening, Mr McGuinness said he believed there were former RUC members within the PSNI doing their utmost "to undermine Sinn Féin's participation in the peace process".

The campaign to "paint as black a picture as possible of republicans" was being orchestrated by elements within the security forces who were "hostile to the peace process", he claimed.

He asked "why was that [dropping the membership of the IRA charge] done?" before suggesting it was because the Police Service of Northern Ireland wanted to "capture the weekend headlines."

Mr McGuinness said he intended asking the Taoiseach during their meeting this evening to make the point to the British government that the PSNI campaign against SF must be stopped.

He also said he supported Mr Ahern's assertion that all paramiliarism must end "but it's one thing saying that, and another making it happen."

Responding to a warning issued by Mr David Trimble that his party would pull out of talks on the review of the Belfast Agreement next week unless action was taken against Sinn Féin, Mr McGuinness said such comments were unhelpful.

He accused Mr Trimble of "spouting off at the mouth in Westminster" and trying to 'out-Paisley' the Rev Ian Paisley.

Mr McGuinness said past experience of progress within the peace process showed movement can only be made through dialogue.

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