- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

LONDON — The Irish Republican Army has scrapped the vast arsenal of weapons, from rifles to rocket launchers, that it used to wage war against British rule for more than three decades, said the independent panel overseeing the disarmament process.

The three-member commission of monitors told a press conference outside the Northern Irish capital of Belfast that it had witnessed and supervised the decommissioning of “very large quantities of arms, which we believe include all the arms in the IRA’s possession.”

Despite suspicions from Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority, retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, who chaired the group, said the panel was satisfied that the decommissioned arms represent the “totality of the IRA’s arsenal.”

The general said the Catholic guerrilla group’s firepower included ammunition, rifles, machine guns, mortars, missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, handguns, flamethrowers and explosives.

The IRA announced three months ago that it intended to call off its armed campaign against British interests and would use “exclusively peaceful means” in quest of its goal of a united Ireland, including an end to British rule in Northern Ireland.

Martin McGuinness, the chief negotiator for Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, was scheduled to fly to Washington today to brief Irish-Americans on the results of the decommissioning efforts.

The move was hailed as perhaps the biggest step yet toward ending the 36-year armed campaign in which the IRA has been blamed for about 1,800 deaths in bombings and shootings from Northern Ireland to the heart of the British government in London.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair noted that British governments had tried for a decade to disarm the IRA.

“We have made an important step in the transition from conflict to peace in Northern Ireland,” Mr. Blair said yesterday.

But reports that the IRA’s days of violence have ended were greeted with skepticism among hard-line British unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland, who demanded photographic evidence that the weapons had been destroyed.

Nigel Dodds, chairman of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, said, “We have seen stunts, hype and spin time out of number. … So it’s going to be a lot harder, more difficult, more challenging to get people to accept this as genuine.”

IRA disarmament has been encouraged since the paramilitary organization first declared a cease-fire in its campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland. The disarmament was given impetus by the so-called Good Friday accords in 1998, aimed at bringing peace to the troubled province.

But progress has been slow, hampered in part by continued violence at the hands of breakaway IRA factions. The so-called “Real IRA” has refused to recognize the cease-fire, as have some Protestant paramilitary organizations.

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