Category: Archive

Republicans pour scorn on disarmament reports

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

and Jack Holland

BELFAST — Republican sources in Northern Ireland have scorned British newspaper reports that the IRA is about to strike a deal on decommissioning amounting to a symbolic destruction of a small number of guns, combined with an agreement on dumping arms. The denials come at a time of intense speculation involving as well an expected statement from Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson on demilitarization, a statement that could come as early as today, Jan. 12.

Reports suggest that a British announcement of troop reduction will be followed by a decommissioning gesture from the republican movement. The gesture could involve the dumping of arms under supervision from the Independent International Body on Decommissioning, with arms dumps being sealed. It could be read as signifying that this phase of the struggle is over.

However, republicans said that decommissioning would not come in the form desired by unionists and "securoucrats" and that, if it happened at all, disarming would form part of a mutually agreed process of radical British demilitarization. A statement from Mandelson on troop reduction could allow this sequence to begin.

Republicans do not talk about "decommissioning" other than to deny it will take place. The preferred phrase is "putting arms beyond use." It appears such a gesture, however its described, would be acceptable to the Ulster Unionist Party leadership.

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Decommissioning has been a key demand from unionists ahead of a meeting of David Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party’s ruling Council, now scheduled for mid-February, probably Feb. 12.

Trimble has effectively threatened to pull out of the new power-sharing executive if a start to decommissioning has not been made by then.

The British government, through usually reliable sources, has, however, ruled out a new package of demilitarization.

It had been thought that Mandelson would announce a rapid reduction in troop levels in a statement at Westminster, but a British spokesman insisted there was no truth in the suggestion.

A source close to Mandelson described the reports in the British press as "entirely speculative." In words curiously echoing those of Sinn Féin, the source added that "the British government’s view is that decommissioning is a matter for the paramilitaries and the international commission at this stage."

While again confirming that Mandelson has not set a specific date by which decommissioning must start or the executive would be suspended, the source said: "If the general says it [decommissioning] is not happening, then David Trimble will not be left alone."

UUP security spokesman Ken Maginnis said it was still unclear whether the IRA would make a move on weapons. "I don’t know where all the optimism over decommissioning is coming from; I see absolutely nothing to justify it," he said.

Maginnis said he had "no collateral" for weekend reports that the IRA is prepared to have the bulk of its weapons sealed in underground bunkers in the Republic, and subsequently monitored by the decommissioning commission.

The London-based Sunday Telegraph, generally regarded as being close to the right wing of the Conservative Party and hostile to the peace process, claimed this week that the decommissioning body was close to agreeing with the IRA that the bulk of its arms be kept in sealed dumps in the Irish Republic, but only after the symbolic destruction of a number of weapons.

Following discussions with the IRA’s intermediary, it said de Chastelain would produce a report within the next few weeks listing the details of how the hundreds of rifles and machine guns will be dealt with.

It said Tony Blair, the British prime minister, is confident the IRA would soon hand over its weapons, after an initial and "symbolic" blowing-up of terrorist guns later this month, supervised by de Chastelain. The bulk of the IRA arsenal would be put into underground bunkers, it said.

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