- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

LONDON | Northern Ireland achieved another important milestone in peacemaking Saturday as the territory’s two major Protestant paramilitary groups announced their first acts of disarmament; and pledged that their decades of slaughtering Catholic civilians were over for good.

One group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, said it had destroyed its entire stockpile of weaponry during a secret June 12 meeting with disarmament chiefs. The other, the Ulster Defense Association, said it had handed over its first, unspecified portion of its arsenal and would continue the process in coming months.

“The struggle has ended. Peace and democracy have been secured, and the need for armed resistance has gone,” said the written statement from Ulster Defense Association commanders. “Consequently, we are putting our arsenal of weaponry permanently beyond use.”

And the Ulster Volunteer group, in a statement read by an unmasked member at a Belfast press conference, said that organization “has completed the process of rendering ordnance totally, and irreversibly, beyond use. … For God and Ulster.”

Together, the two underground groups killed nearly 1,000 people in a self-declared war against the support base of the Irish Republican Army. Unable to pinpoint IRA members living within minority Catholic areas, they opted to terrorize the whole Catholic community with machine-gun and bomb attacks on Catholic social venues that targeted young and old alike. They also killed Catholics who strayed into Protestant areas or moved into Protestant districts; sometimes torturing them first to elicit bogus “confessions” of IRA membership.

Northern Ireland’s soft-spoken disarmament chief, retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, was in his homeland Saturday and declined to comment. But the British and Irish governments, which since 1997 have charged Gen. de Chastelain with securing the disarmament of several Northern Ireland groups, lauded the latest achievement of his often-thankless diplomacy.

Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said Gen. de Chastelain and his deputies, Andrew Sens of the United States and Brig. Tauno Nieminen of Finland, “have made progress on a scale many people believed was not possible.”

“The people of this island will be forever in their debt,” Mr. Ahern said.

Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Shaun Woodward, said it was a “historic day.” He lauded the UVF for its “bold and courageous decision for peace,” and urged UDA warlords to give up all of their weapons, too.

Analysts agreed Mr. Woodward played a particularly important role in spurring the UDA-UVF disarmament moves — by threatening to take away their chance to surrender weapons with legal impunity.

Britain has been pressing for paramilitary disarmament since 1994, the year that the IRA called an open-ended truce and the UDA and UVF replied with their own. The cease-fires paved the way for Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace accord of 1998. All three groups were supposed to disarm by mid-2000 as part of that landmark pact — but none met the deadline.

The IRA, which boasted a much more extensive range of weaponry, largely smuggled from Libya, gradually disarmed from 2001 to 2005.

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