03 September 2005

IRA ready to scrap weapons 'in days'

Guardian

Angelique Chrisafis, Ireland correspondent
Saturday September 3, 2005
The Guardian

The IRA is to begin dismantling its weapons arsenal within days and decommissioning should be completed in weeks, sources close to the British and Irish governments said yesterday.

The disarmament chief, retired Canadian general John de Chastelain, arrived in Ireland on Wednesday after a Finnish brigadier, Tauno Nieminen, was appointed to his three-man team in anticipation of the heavy workload over the next few weeks.

The British and Irish governments have been anxious for disarmament to begin since the IRA's statement in July that its armed struggle with Britain was over and all weapons would be "put beyond use ... as quickly as possible".

When decommissioning showed no sign of starting last month, unionists grew irate over the government's disbandment of the home-based battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, and what they saw as the audacious return of republican fugitives, the Colombia Three, to Ireland.

When decommissioning begins, weapons will be neutralised in a series of separate decommissioning acts. Once these are complete and all weapons have been put beyond use, General de Chastelain will report to the governments. A source close to the British government said the general's report was expected "as soon as physically possible".

He is also expected to give the governments an inventory of arms that have been neutralised, but it is not clear when that could be published.

The IRA's arms cache is thought to include M60 machine guns, Armalite rifles, AK-47s, handguns, explosives and timer devices stored at various locations.

In its three previous acts of decommissioning, the IRA has demanded confidentiality. All sides are keen to avoid a repeat of the debacle of two years ago when General de Chastelain emerged from witnessing the secret act of decommissioning and, restricted by confidentiality, was unable to provide enough detail to satisfy the Ulster Unionists.

David Trimble then pulled the plug on the process which was to lead to the restoration of a power-sharing Stormont assembly.

This time two clergymen, one Protestant and one Catholic, will be invited to witness the final disarmament process and afterwards state to the public they were there.

But Ian Paisley's hardline Democratic Unionist party will not get the photographic evidence of decommissioning that it demanded.

The Irish justice minister, Michael McDowell, said this week that he did not expect decommissioning would happen by "one single press of a button or by one single act of decommissioning, at one single place." Disarmament would involve a series of acts which would happen "in one sequence of events" and "in fairly rapid order", he said.

The next test for Northern Ireland's political process is a report next month by the ceasefire watchdog, the International Monitoring Commission, examining whether the IRA has stuck to its word not to engage in criminal activities or recruitment since it announced the war was over.

But the government is under pressure to address the outstanding issue of whether loyalist paramilitaries, currently involved in a bloody feud, will also decommission their weapons. The Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Hain, has been urged to declare the that the Ulster Volunteer Force, which is attempting to wipe out the smaller splinter group, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, has broken its ceasefire.

The SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, said he was concerned that the Northern Ireland Office was content to let the UVF get on with its "cleaning-up operation" in the hope it was a "prelude to something more positive."


Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?