- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 23, 2001

Catholic and Protestant rioters threw gas bombs and lit cars on fire yesterday on the eve of the annual pro-British Ulster Unionist Partys conference. The rioting, which started Wednesday, is the worst violence Northern Ireland has seen in three years. If Northern Irelands First Minister David Trimble didnt have enough to worry about before today, in the wake of his pro-British Ulster Unionist Partys losses in recent elections, extremists on both sides have given him another reason for early retirement to look promising. The departure of one of Northern Irelands greatest contributors to the peace process would, however, be a great mistake.

Mr. Trimble has said he would resign July 1 if the nationalist terrorist group, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), has not put its weapons verifiably beyond use as it had promised last year in accordance with the decommissioning mandate in the Good Friday accords of 1998. This move by the leader of Northern Ireland´s multi-party government, meant to show those critical of his moderate stance that he is serious about forcing the IRA to disarm, is one he has used in previous years to keep his seat as head of the party secure. Though there is not likely to be a serious challenge to his leadership at the conference today, his party´s losses in the recent parliamentary and local elections have created an environment ripe for violence.

Mr. Trimble has also accused the British government of being soft on the Irish nationalist paramilitary, which has allowed three inspections of its arms dumps, but has not destroyed the weapons harbored there.

Unionists should use today´s meeting to give Mr. Trimble their unqualified support and to determine that they, too will use their influence to disarm pro-British militants. These decisions should be coupled with a determination that neither Catholic nor Protestant militants can trick themselves into thinking that weapons kept in an arms dump or an underground bunker are being put "beyond use." The message the IRA and the Protestant paramilitaries are sending is that weapons are more important to them than peace. For the continued existence of Northern Ireland´s multi-party government, for the dozens of injured police officers who tried to keep the peace this week and for the children whose primary school served as a battle ground for the riots, this message must be changed.

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