November 22, 2002

IRA Says It Takes Historic Step to Disarm

The Irish Republican Army said on Tuesday in Belfast it had begun to disarm, in an unprecedented move that could rescue Northern Ireland's battered peace process.

Some greeted the move as a historic breakthrough in efforts to end a conflict that has killed 3,600 people in the British-ruled province in recent decades.

It came a day after a call by Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA's political ally Sinn Fein, for the IRA to disarm to put the crumbling 1998 Good Friday power-sharing peace agreement back on track.

"This can be a huge... liberating leap into the future, as opposed to the niggling and begrudging process we've seen so far," Adams told Ireland's state-run RTE television.

The guerrilla group did not specify what method it had used to disable its arms, which include everything from assault rifles to plastic explosive, or the quantity that it had destroyed.

But it said its action, unprecedented in its history, was in line with an agreement with Northern Ireland's disarmament authorities.

"The political process is now on the point of collapse. Such a collapse would certainly and eventually put the overall peace process in jeopardy," it said in a statement.

"Therefore, in order to save the peace process we have implemented the scheme agreed with the IICD (Indepedent International Commission on Decommissioning) in August," the statement said.

The IRA said in August it was ready to put weapons "beyond use" but withdrew the offer as the peace process crumbled.

But since then, the arrests in Colombia of three men linked to the IRA who had contact with leftist guerrillas, and world revulsion against "terrorist" action following the September 11 attacks in the United States, have increased pressure on the republican guerrillas to disarm.

There was no immediate reaction from key pro-British Loyalist leaders, such as Ulster Unionist David Trimble. His resignation as First Minister in July from the power-sharing provincial government precipitated the present crisis.

Trimble was expected to wait for confirmation disarmament actually had begun from Canadian General John de Chastelain, who heads the disarmament commission, before commenting.

The Ulster Defence Association, one of the more extreme pro-British paramilitary groups, rejected the IRA gesture and said it would not hand over any guns in response.

But Nobel Peace Prize laureate John Hume, who heads the moderate Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party, said the IRA had answered "the will of the people".

"I have no doubt whatsoever... that peace has transformed our streets and strengthened it enormously and that people want it maintained and everybody knows that," Hume told Irish radio.


The IRA, which has fought for decades for a united Ireland, has observed a truce since 1997 but the peace process has been snarled by rows over arms, policing reform and Britain's military presence.

Britain still maintains 13,500 service personnel in Northern Ireland.

The September 11 attacks in the United States and the US campaign against international terrorism have put pressure on the IRA to make good an offer it made 18 months ago to forego its weapons.

The unprecedented disarmament move was expected to be met with reciprocal gestures from Britain and awaited a crucial verdict from David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party which supports continued union with Britain.

General de Chastelain, the Canadian head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning -- the disarmament authority -- was due to issue a report on his assessment of the IRA's action.

It was widely expected he would say that he was satisfied that weapons had been verifiably put out of action in a way that satisfied him.

Britain and Ireland have appointed de Chastelain as the arbiter of progress on resolving the disarmament row, which has snarled the Northern Irish peace process for three years.

( China Daily 10/25/2001)

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