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IRA arms pledge a 'hollow gesture'

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The DUP's Ian Paisley: IRA statement "is a hollow gesture, because we don't want words. We want actions."

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Northern Ireland

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- The leading Protestant unionist party in Northern Ireland has dismissed the Irish Republican Army's move to resume disarmament as a "hollow gesture."

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) poured cold water on the statement issued by the IRA on Thursday ordering its members to halt its armed campaign to end British rule.

"All units have been ordered to dump arms," said an IRA statement, which said the move was effective 1500 GMT on Thursday. (Full story)

"All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever."

But the leader of the hard-line DUP, 78-year-old preacher Ian Paisley, all but dismissed the IRA's statement.

"Do they think that the people of Northern Ireland are fools?" the firebrand Paisley said, noting that unionists are particularly incensed that convicted IRA bomber Sean Kelly was let out of prison Wednesday, apparently a precursor to the statement.

"There is great anger," Paisley said. "... here is a government which is meant to be fighting terrorists doing deals with terrorists."

The IRA's statement, he added, "is a hollow gesture, because we don't want words. We want actions."

Gerry Adams, president of the IRA's political ally Sinn Fein, said he respected the mandate Paisley had from his party.

"This is not a day for the hard word," Adams said. "This is a day for trying to absorb what has happened, giving Ian Paisley the space to absorb it also and put it to the two governments. They have to create the place where engagement takes place."

But Adams had strong words for Paisley as well.

"If Ian Paisley does not engage," he said, "then the rest of us cannot sit waiting, hanging about until the DUP come to terms with the need for equality."

In the historic statement, the IRA said it had authorized a representative to complete the process of decommissioning arms -- the process that halted progress on the Good Friday peace accords in 2003 when the outlawed group refused to allow photographic proof of the decommissioning.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the IRA's action "a step of unparalleled magnitude in the recent history of Northern Ireland."

"This may be the day when finally, after all the false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror, on the island of Ireland," he said. "I welcome the statement of the IRA that ends its campaign. I welcome its clarity. I welcome the recognition that the only route to political change lies in exclusively peaceful and democratic means."

The fight between Protestant unionists and Catholic republicans -- a war that has become known simple as "The Troubles" -- has left nearly 4,000 people dead. The IRA finally called a cease-fire in 1994, and, after a brief resumption of violence, the parties finally came together for a peace accord in 1998.

The 1998 accord's power-sharing government collapsed in 2002 over the inability of Sinn Fein to affect the IRA's full cooperation with the accord.

But Adams called the IRA's announcement a tremendous opportunity for both sides in the long conflict to finally end it.

"All of us ... are all now in a new era of struggle," he said. "And there's a role for everyone in this situation. Nation-building is too important to be left entirely to the politicians, so I want to appeal to citizens across this island to come together for this new dispensation.

"There's a time to resist, to stand up and to confront the enemy with arms if necessary," he said. "There's also a time to reach out to put war behind us. This is a time for peace."

The unionists have said they will not participate again in talks until the IRA -- which ultimately supports reuniting the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland with the Catholic majority in the Republic of Ireland in the south -- ceases its illegal and violent activities.

The group has observed a cease-fire since 1997, but authorities blamed it for a bank robbery late last year, and it was involved in a bar killing early this year that brought the ire of Britain, Ireland and the United States.

Adams said demands from the unionists for the group to specifically renounce its criminal activities would come to nothing because the IRA does not consider its activities criminal.

"When it says that it will commit its volunteers to democracy and peaceful means but forbid them to engage in any other activity whatsoever, what part of 'any other activity' do the (Unionist) leaders not understand?" he said

In its statement, IRA said it views its armed campaign as "entirely legitimate," if no longer necessary.

"There is now an unprecedented opportunity to utilize the considerable energy and goodwill which there is for the peace process," the statement said. "This comprehensive series of unparalleled initiatives is our contribution to this and to the continued endeavors to bring about independence and unity for the people of Ireland."

After consulting with its leadership, the IRA found "very strong support among IRA volunteers for the Sinn Fein peace strategy."

"The overwhelming majority of people in Ireland fully support this process," the statement said. "They and friends of Irish unity through the world want to see the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement."

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