Clash over IRA weapons plan
BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Republican and unionist politicians have clashed in Northern Ireland over paramilitary decommissioning.
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble said a proposal by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to put its weapons "completely and verifiably beyond use" did not go far enough.
But Martin McGuinness, from the Sinn Fein party closely allied to the IRA, called the unionist stance a "grievous error of judgment."
The verbal clash came as the governments in London and Dublin waited for a response from the Ulster Unionists to their plans for moving the peace process forward.
On Monday the IRA's intention was made public by the International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) -- the body responsible for overseeing paramilitary decommissioning.
There has been no official word from the IRA either confirming the IICD's statement or explaining how it would meet the goal of putting weapons "completely and verifiably beyond use."
Trimble said: "What we need to see is decommissioning beginning.
"We, as a party, have twice took adventurous steps in the expectation that decommissioning will follow and twice we have been let down."
But McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator in the peace process, hit back saying: "Instead of grasping this unique opportunity he has chosen to undermine the rule of the IICD by rejecting their determination."
He called on the British government to stop pandering to the Ulster Unionist leader and to begin defending the Good Friday Agreement.
All sides in the peace process were due to have responded to the new Anglo-Irish proposals by midnight on Monday, but the British government said it would give them more time to consider the plans.
Trimble sparked the current crisis when he quit as first minister in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, saying there had not been enough progress on IRA decommissioning.
Unless a new first minister is nominated by the weekend, the assembly could be suspended -- meaning a return to direct rule of Northern Ireland from London -- or new elections called.
Just hours before the deadline was due to pass on Monday the International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) revealed the IRA's statement on decommissioning.
Senior UUP politicians met late on Monday to discuss the party's stance on the Anglo-Irish plan -- called The Way Forward.
The IICD, the body overseeing paramilitary disarmament in Northern Ireland, which is one of the most contentious issues in the peace process, said the IRA had put forward a plan for putting its weapons "beyond use."
General John de Chastelain, who is in charge of the body, said the republican paramilitary group had suggested a method for putting arms "completely and verifiably beyond use."
The move was hailed as highly significant by the British and Irish governments.
Trimble's party has concerns over some of the proposals in the Anglo-Irish document such as how to reform the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland's police service.
But it is disarmament that has so far provided the major sticking point for progress.
Trimble told the UK Press Association: "It was only if that package (the Anglo-Irish proposals) succeeded in providing movement from the republicans and nationalists that the situation would arise. We have seen a step by republicans, but of course it falls far short of what we need which is to see the decommissioning actually begin."
The Good Friday pact initially called for total paramilitary disarmament by mid-2000 but that deadline was extended to June 2001.
The de Chastelain commission was set up in 1997 to oversee the disarmament proposal, but has been largely reduced to checking that stockpiles of ammunition have not been moved or used.
The IICD said in Monday's statement: "Based on our discussions with the IRA representative we believe that this proposal initiates a process that will put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use."
No further details on the proposal, put forward in a recent meeting, are available but it would meet the commission's remit, it said.
Gerry Adams, president of the republican Sinn Fein party, said: "Once again, the IRA has demonstrated its commitment to the search for a lasting peace.
"The other parties need to match that commitment and should respond positively and constructively."
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