- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

BELFAST The Irish Republican Army has scrapped more guns and explosives in a secret ceremony, North American weapons inspectors announced yesterday amid praise from politicians in Britain and Ireland.

The widely expected move more than five months after the organization made history by starting down the road to disarmament bolstered the key achievement of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, a Catholic-Protestant government that includes the IRA's Sinn Fein party.

"It is time to recognize that profoundly important progress is being made, and the Good Friday agreement is achieving results that are good for all the people of Northern Ireland," said Prime Minister Bertie Ahern of the neighboring Republic of Ireland.

Retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, who has led Northern Ireland's independent disarmament commission since 1997, said he and diplomat Andrew Sens, his American deputy, had "witnessed an event in which the IRA leadership has put a varied and substantial quantity of ammunition, arms and explosive material beyond use."

Gen. de Chastelain would not specify when or where the disarmament took place, nor the method used, explaining that the IRA insisted on releasing no details.

David Trimble, the Northern Ireland government leader who has long battled Protestant hard-liners opposed to Sinn Fein's participation in the Cabinet, welcomed the IRA move as evidence the group would gradually surrender its entire arsenal of stockpiled weapons.

And Mr. Trimble, whose Ulster Unionist Party represents a narrow majority of the province's Protestants, said the IRA actions must spur outlawed Protestant groups "to start their own process."

Like the IRA, such groups were supposed to get rid of their own less elaborate arms supplies in support of the 1998 pact.

But unlike Sinn Fein, the Protestant outlaw politicians have won little electoral support, weakening any leverage they might have to deliver disarmament from their quarter. Attacks on Catholics, chiefly involving crude homemade pipe bombs, have escalated in the past year.

In October, the IRA's confirmation that it had begun to put weapons "beyond use" a deliberately vague term that could mean their handover, destruction or sealing in concrete persuaded the Ulster Unionists not to topple Northern Ireland's government. It also spurred Britain to accelerate its program of dismantling military installations, a process begun following the IRA's 1997 cease-fire.

This time, analysts agreed that the IRA acted specifically to boost Sinn Fein's chances of winning parliamentary seats in an election next month in the neighboring Republic of Ireland. Mr. Ahern was expected to specify a polling date later this week.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told reporters at a news conference the IRA move was "not a mere election stunt. It's too big an issue."

Speaking alongside Arthur Morgan, one of Sinn Fein's parliamentary candidates, Mr. Adams said the IRA was "leading by example" and expected Britain to make fresh gestures in response. "We've only to look at the Middle East to see that the imperative of peacemaking must prevail," he said.

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