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IRA agrees to arms inspection

Trimble has demanded that the IRA begin disarmament  

DUBLIN, Ireland -- The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has authorised the inspection of secret arms dumps for the first time in seven years.

The surprise announcement by the international disarmament commission came eight days before UK elections that will put the province's 1998 peace accord to the test.

The IRA has permitted the inspections in accordance with the deal that set up Northern Ireland's joint Catholic-Protestant government.

The inspections break a lengthy stalemate over IRA disarmament, and were carried out by Cyril Ramaphosa, a former African National Congress leader, and Martti Ahtisaari, an ex-president of Finland.

"We observed that the weapons and explosives continued to be safely and adequately stored. We remain confident that they cannot be used without our detection," they said in a joint statement.

They have now visited the IRA bunkers -- somewhere in the Republic of Ireland, where the IRA keeps the majority of its arsenal -- three times since May 2000.

The key objective of the 1998 peace accord was the establishment of Northern Ireland's four-party coalition government.

The Protestant leader of the administration, David Trimble has vowed to resign his post -- which would cause the government to collapse -- if the IRA does not begin to decommission weapons by July 2001.

Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party faces a severe electoral test in the British general election on June 7 from other Protestant parties which accuse him of collaborating too much with Sinn Fein.

Protestant politicians have for years demanded a start to IRA disarmament in exchange for working with Sinn Fein.

The 1998 accord had set May 2000 as the deadline for total disarmament of the IRA and Northern Ireland's two major outlawed Protestant Groups -- the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Volunteer Force, both of whom take no part in the Northern Irish administration.

• The Northern Ireland Assembly
• Northern Ireland Office
• The British Government

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