By Patrick Markey
Although Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups have given little indication of when arms decommissioning will begin, the body monitoring weapons is cautiously optimistic they will meet the May 2000 deadline, the group’s chairman said this week.
Speaking at a dinner in New York, Chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning General John de Chastelain said Monday there is still time for the body to carry out its mandate.
"With eight months to go, we believe there is time for us to carry out our mandate. There is sufficient time, administratively, technically and logistically for us to do what is necessary," de Chastelain told guests at an event for Cooperation Ireland, a non-profit group that promotes dialogue in Northern Ireland.
"But equally it is clear that the closer we come to our deadline without any movement on decommissioning the harder it will be for us to meet the requirements," the general said.
De Chastelain said while he was optimistic he could not say he was confident of success.
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"The decommissioning decision can only be taken by those have the guns. When they do that, we will be ready for them," he said.
The decommissioning body was established to monitor the hand-over and destruction of paramilitary arms and explosives by May 22, 2000. With no political role, the commission can only review and verify any arms hand-over.
So far only the LVF have handed in a small cache of arms in December 1998, a significant event for de Chastelain.
"People said decommissioning was never going to happen and it did. Given the range of equipment, it allowed the decommissioning body to put into practice methods it had planned to deal with weapons and ammunition," he said.
"Since the LVF decommissioning, there has not been a decommissioning event, and the commission has no indication by other paramilitary groups when there will be one. It seems clear to us that there will not be a decision on any decommissioning until after the current political impasse has been resolved," de Chastelain said.