By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The peace process took a significant step forward Monday with the IRA’s confirmation that it has reestablished contact with the International Decommissioning Body and that "a number" of its arms dumps have been inspected by the agreed third parties.
The IRA said it had taken the move in accordance with its agreement with the British and Irish governments on May 5, and to demonstrate its commitment to finding a just and lasting peace in Ireland.
The arms dumps, thought to number three and be in the southwest of the island, have now been examined by the senior ANC official, Cyril Ramaphosa, and former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari. "These dumps" said the IRA "contained a substantial amount of material including weapons, explosives and other equipment."
But there was also a reminder in its message that the deal negotiated with the two governments included a series of commitments by the British, including demilitarization and the implementation of the Patten proposals on policing reform in full.
The two arms inspectors have told General de Chastelain of the decommissioning body that the weapons and explosives they inspected are safely and adequately stored and cannot be used without their knowledge.
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"We see our mandate as being the inspection of the contents of a number of IRA arms dumps, reporting to the IICD that we have done so, and re-inspecting these dumps regularly to ensure that the weapons have remained secure," they said.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams welcomed the IRA statement, which he said was "both courageous and imaginative. Everyone who wants the peace process to work will welcome this significant development," he said.
Unionist reaction varied from the cautiously welcoming to the outright dismissal of the Rev. Ian Paisley’s DUP. In the absence of David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist Party leader, who is on a visit to the Mideast, his close colleague Sir Reg Empey welcomed the news.
"I do not want to exaggerate this move, because it is only a first step toward decommissioning, but I do not want to minimize it either" Empey said, adding that if it means the IRA’s war is over, it would go toward making the sacrifices of the last 30 years worthwhile.
Paisley, however, scorned the statement as worthless, saying the IRA still had control over its weapons. His deputy leader, Peter Robinson, was similarly scathing, describing the IRA announcement as "window dressing."
UDA withdraws threat
Meanwhile, the UDA has withdrawn its threat to kill Catholics in North and West Belfast, over a claim they are involved in a systematic campaign of "ethnic cleansing" Protestants from those areas of the city.
In what was seen as a humiliating stand-down by the largest loyalist paramilitary grouping in Northern Ireland, and its leader on the Shankill Road, Johnny Adair, the UDA said it would rescind its threat.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive had already issued a statement refuting the UDA claim, saying that although 21 Catholic families had been intimidated or attacked in the past month, no Protestant family had been.
In advance of the UDA withdrawal, the Ulster Democratic Party, with which it is linked, had appealed to its leadership to retract the threat. UDP chairman John White said it had been trying to arrange dialogue with nationalist community workers to defuse tension.