LONDON — The Irish Republican Army called a halt yesterday to more than three decades of deadly violence in the British Isles, ordering its paramilitary “units” to lay down their weapons immediately and stick to peaceful politics to pursue their aims.
On a DVD, former prisoner Seana Walsh read the statement in which the IRA leadership instructed its members to “dump arms,” stop all military activity at 4 p.m. British time (11 a.m. EST) and use “exclusively peaceful means” in quest of their goal of a united Ireland.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the IRA statement as a “step of unparalleled magnitude.”
He added, in a mixture of hope and caution, “This may be the day which finally, after all these false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland.”
The statement expressed no remorse for killings, injuries and destruction since 1969.
The United States and others were skeptical.
“We understand that many, especially victims and their families, will be skeptical. They will want to be certain that this terrorism and criminality are indeed things of the past,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
After 36 years of an armed campaign, in which it was blamed for about 1,800 deaths in bombings and shootings, the IRA conceded that “we believe there is now an alternative way to achieve [a united Ireland] and to end British rule in our country” — a reference to British rule in Northern Ireland.
Although he welcomed the group’s renunciation of violence, Mr. Blair warily issued an appeal for the IRA to match words with action.
“All of us throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom will want to see this clear statement of principle kept to in practice,” Mr. Blair said in a television broadcast.
The IRA has observed a cease-fire since 1997 but has steadfastly sidestepped the touchy issue of ridding itself of bullets and bombs. Hard-line dissident splinter groups have kept up the violence.
Yesterday, the organization said it intended “to complete the process to verifiably put its arms beyond use in a way which will further enhance public confidence and to conclude this as quickly as possible.”
“We have invited two independent witnesses, from the Protestant and Catholic churches, to testify to this,” it said.
The IRA did not identify the witnesses.
The group pledged to work with the Independent International Commission of Decommissioning, headed by Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain.View Entire Story
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