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Republicans urge IRA disarmament

McGuinness (left) and Adams
Adams (right) and McGuinness (left) have been in touch with IRA commanders  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Catholic paramilitaries have been urged to decommission weapons by their political allies in Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said a disarmament gesture by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) would give the peace process a new impetus.

With the power-sharing Northern Irish Assembly facing collapse at midnight on Thursday, speculation has increased that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) may be about to make a concession to disarmament.

Adams said on Monday: "We have put to the IRA the view that if it could make a groundbreaking move on the arms issue this could save the peace process from collapse and transform the situation."

He said he and the party's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness, had put the case for disarming to IRA commanders.

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Disarming the IRA has become a key sticking point in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Protestants say the IRA has not done enough to disarm but Catholic parties say the group has put its weapons beyond use and cooperated with the international body overseeing decommissioning.

The UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid, has until midnight on Thursday to rescue the province's ruling Protestant-Catholic coalition -- crippled after three Protestant cabinet ministers resigned last week to try to force the IRA to disarm.

At that point Reid will have to decide whether to suspend Northern Ireland's power-sharing assembly for a third time, longer than the previous tactical 24-hour suspensions, or call new elections to the assembly.

The IRA has yet to hand in any weapons but says its arms beyond use -- a cornerstone of the Good Friday peace accord that created Northern Ireland's coalition government on condition that the IRA disarm.

Adams said: "I do not underestimate the difficulties which this involves for the IRA

"The naysayers, the armchair generals, the enemies of Irish Republicanism and of the peace process will present a positive IRA move in disparaging terms, and that is only to be expected.

"Others will say that the IRA has acted under pressure, but everyone knows that the IRA is not an organization that bows to pressure or which moves on British or unionist terms.

"IRA volunteers have a view of themselves and a vision of the Ireland they want to be a part of. This is what will shape their attitude to this issue.

Security analysts say the IRA may decide to destroy two arms dumps by flooding them with concrete.

The 1998 Good Friday peace accord, widely hoped to resolve sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, has been complicated by rows over IRA weapons, proposed police reforms and Britain's military presence in the region.

Britain has piled pressure on the IRA to end its refusal to disarm since the September 11 attacks on the U.S. triggered a war against terrorism.

Adams made clear that if the IRA were to take a new initiative on the arms issue, then the British government would need to take steps of its own to build upon the IRA's efforts.

"We have made significant gains, but there's a continuing need for all of us to stay connected and to keep fulfilling our roles," Adams said.

"Our focus is on building the peace and every one of us have a role in that daunting task. We have to ensure that we have done our utmost to prevent the situation from slipping back into conflict."


• Northern Ireland Assembly
• Sinn Fein
• Good Friday Agreement

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