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Experts say IRA committed to peace, has shut down units for bomb-making, arms smuggling

Experts say IRA committed to peace, has shut down units for bomb-making, arms smuggling

The Irish Republican Army is committed to nonviolent politics and has shut down key units responsible for weapons-making, arms smuggling and training, an expert panel reported Wednesday, in dramatic findings designed to spur a revival of Catholic-Protestant cooperation in Northern Ireland.
The British and Irish governments warmly welcomed the 60-page assessment of the Independent Monitoring Commission, a four-man panel that includes former directors of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the anti-terrorist unit of Scotland Yard.
It reported that the IRA _ which last year declared a formal end to its campaign to overthrow Northern Ireland by force and handed its weapons stockpiles to disarmament chiefs _ had "run down its terrorist capability."
In a surprise development, the experts said the IRA "has disbanded 'military' structures," including its headquarters units that direct weapons smuggling, bomb-making, training and recruitment. They said IRA commanders also had begun cutting its rank-and-file membership, had stopped making payments to them, and also "seeks to stop criminal activity by members."
"We do not believe that PIRA is now engaged in terrorism," the report said, using the group's full formal name of Provisional IRA. "We do not believe that PIRA is undertaking terrorist-type training. We do not believe that PIRA has been recruiting. ... The leadership is seeking to reduce the size of the organization. We have no evidence of targeting, procurement or engineering activity."
"We believe that the leadership does not consider a return to terrorism as in any way a viable option and that it continues to direct its members not to engage in criminal activity," the commission said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair lauded the IRA moves as likely to spur a new power-sharing agreement between leaders of Northern Ireland's Protestant majority and Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party that represents most Catholics.
He said negotiations in Scotland Oct. 11-13 involving all Northern Ireland factions would determine whether a Catholic-Protestant administration _ the central aim of Northern Ireland's Good Friday accord of 1998 _ could be revived.
"The IRA's campaign is over. ... The door is now open to a final settlement, which is why the talks next week in Scotland are going to be so important," Blair told a news conference at his office in London. He refused to take questions.
In Dublin, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said the report's "positive and clear-cut findings are of the utmost importance and significance. They are evidence that the security landscape in Northern Ireland has been radically altered."
And in Belfast, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain called on Protestant leaders "to recognize that the paramilitary situation, in particular the situation of the IRA, has changed absolutely fundamentally and radically."
"Is there now a security threat from the IRA? The answer's no," Hain said, adding: "I do not believe anybody thinks that the IRA can come back as a war machine. That is over for them, they have chosen a different, democratic path."
Both governments have given Protestants and Sinn Fein a Nov. 24 deadline to revive power-sharing in line with the complex Good Friday pact. Otherwise, Britain says it will dissolve Northern Ireland's legislature and instead intensify cooperation with the Republic of Ireland _ a threat designed to pressure Protestant leaders, who oppose Irish government involvement in Northern Ireland.
A four-party administration established 18 months after the Good Friday deal suffered repeated breakdowns and collapsed in October 2002 over an IRA spying scandal. The major Protestant-backed party, the Democratic Unionists, says it will not cooperate with Sinn Fein until that party drops its policy of refusing to cooperate with Northern Ireland's police force.
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On the Net:
http://www.independentmonitoringcommission.org