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IRA reveals talks with arms body

NI First Minister David Trimble has threatened to resign over the arms issue  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- A resolution of Northern Ireland's arms issue is a "necessary step in a genuine peace process," the Irish Republican Army has said.

The IRA's statement came on Thursday as it revealed its representatives have held four meetings with the international disarmament commission since March.

The meetings were confirmed by a spokesman for General John de Chastelain, head of the commission.

"It can be confirmed that these four meetings took place," the spokesman told the UK Press Association.

The IRA said it was committed to resolving the arms issue, but accused the British government of failing to honour its side of the bargain.

The statement -- which came as the Republican leadership faced new pressure from Ulster Unionists to begin emptying its secret arms dumps -- confirmed that a third inspection had been carried out by the two independent arms inspectors.

It said: "Since March 8 our representative has been involved in an ongoing series of discussions with the independent international commission on decommissioning, including four meetings.

"This continuing dialogue and the inspections represent clear and irrefutable evidence of the IRA's commitment to a just and equitable peace settlement.

"The IRA leadership has honoured every commitment we have made and will continue to do so. Others should do likewise.

"We reiterate our view that the resolution of the issue of arms is a necessary step in a genuine peace process."

The IRA publicly pledged in May 2000 to work with the commission to put its stockpiled weapons "completely and verifiably beyond use."

Soon after, the two independent inspectors, South African Cyril Ramaphosa of the ANC and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, announced they had inspected the IRA's weapons dumps.

Ramaphosa and Ahtisaari, who were unable to carry out a third inspection until concerns over foot-and-mouth disease had eased in Ireland, have since re-examined arms dumps which "held a substantial amount of military material, including explosives and related equipment, as well as weapons and other material."

They said: "We confirm that the arms dumps had not been tampered with and that they have remained secure.

"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.

"The IRA has once again fully honoured their commitments and complied with the terms of our engagement and we are convinced that this co-operation will continue.

"We will continue to re-inspect the arms dumps in order to ensure that the weapons remain secure."

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has warned the British and Irish Governments that he will resign as First Minister of the power-sharing executive at the Northern Ireland Assembly unless the Provisionals start decommissioning their weapons.

But the IRA statement gave no indication of any move by Republicans to meet that demand.

The Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party dismissed the IRA statement, saying that moves on the arms issue were a cynical ploy to boost Sinn Fein's battle with the SDLP for nationalist votes in next week's General Election.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said: "It's all talk and no product.

"The fact that someone sits down and talks to General de Chastelain is hardly earth shattering, is it?

"Its timing again is only for the purpose of attempting to moderate Sinn Fein's position to help it in its struggle with the SDLP."

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

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