IRA withdraws disarmament commitment
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) – The Irish Republican Army on Tuesday rescinded its plans to disarm, plunging peace efforts in Northern Ireland into deeper trouble and reinforcing Protestant hostility to continued power-sharing with IRA supporters.
Protestant politicians said the IRA retreat – and the weekend arrests of three suspected IRA men in Colombia – demonstrated that the outlawed group was still modernizing, rearming and threatening to resume the violence it largely halted in 1997.
”We are withdrawing our proposal. The IRA leadership will continue to monitor developments. Peacekeeping is a collective effort,” the IRA said in a statement that accused the British government and Ulster Unionists, the major Protestant party, of making unacceptable demands and decisions.
The IRA last week had agreed with an international disarmament commission on a secret method for putting some of its stockpiled weapons ”completely and verifiably beyond use.” But the offer included no starting date and appeared dependent on unspoken IRA demands, an impression confirmed Tuesday.
”We will not be held to ransom by threats,” said Ken Maginnis, a leading moderate in the Ulster Unionist Party, which has vowed to scuttle the province’s joint Catholic-Protestant administration unless the IRA starts to scrap weapons as the 1998 peace accord intended.
Mitchel McLaughlin, chairman of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party, insisted the IRA had responded reasonably to Britain’s decision last weekend to strip power for 24 hours from local hands.
That maneuver created another six weeks of negotiating time before the Ulster Unionists either have to nominate a new leader for the government, or see it collapse.
”The British government’s response to the refusal of the unionists to work the political institutions is no way to develop a peace process,” McLaughlin said.
He said he couldn’t respond to Sunday’s arrest of three suspected IRA members in South America because details were ”too scanty.”
Police in Belfast and Bogota, the Colombian capital, said all three were traveling on false passports, had spent several weeks in a rebel-controlled area, and had traces of explosives and cocaine on their clothing.
Police said James Monaghan, in his late 50s, had been convicted of possessing IRA explosives and conspiring to cause explosions in 1971. He has been identified as the IRA’s ”education officer” in charge of identifying new weapons-making techniques, authorities said.
Martin McCauley, 40, was shot in a 1982 police ambush at a farmhouse containing IRA weapons, and later received a suspended two-year sentence for arms possession.
The third man hadn’t been positively identified, but police in Colombia had forwarded fingerprints and other evidence to police in Belfast.
The IRA has previously traded its terrorist expertise for weapons, particularly in Libya.
Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, John Reid, said he was disappointed that the IRA had ”moved away from a supposedly historic commitment when the ink was barely dry.” He said it would ”give comfort and succor to those who have been very skeptical about the IRA’s intentions, particularly given the news reports out of Colombia.”
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said he was disappointed too. ”Putting arms beyond use is an indispensable part of implementing the Good Friday agreement,” he said.
Britain and Ireland jointly unveiled plans Aug. 1 designed to meet key Catholic demands and spur IRA disarmament.
Britain specified further military cutbacks and promised more changes to the predominantly Protestant police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. A 175-point plan on changing the RUC into a more Catholic-friendly Police Service was expected to be published soon.
Tuesday’s IRA move mirrors its behavior in February 2000, when Britain stripped power from local hands to shore up Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, the senior minister in the Northern Ireland administration.
Hours before Trimble’s expected resignation, the IRA told disarmament chiefs about the ”context” in which it would give up weapons. Britain rejected that offer as hopelessly vague, and the IRA immediately withdrew it.
In May 2000, Ulster Unionists agreed to resume work alongside Sinn Fein after the IRA pledged to put arms ”completely and verifiably beyond use.” But Trimble resigned from his post six weeks ago when a second deadline for IRA disarmament passed.
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