NIreland disarmament chief confirms UVF arms moves

Northern Ireland's disarmament chief announced Monday he has witnessed a major weapons handover by the Ulster Volunteer Force, an outlawed group that terrorized Irish Catholics for decades _ but he cannot confirm if the shadowy gang has surrendered all of its arsenal.
Retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain spoke out two days after UVF commanders in Belfast said they had surrendered their entire stockpile of weaponry during a June 12 ceremony at a confidential Northern Ireland location. The move culminated 15 years of at-times fraught diplomacy to persuade the Ulster Volunteers to bolster their 1994 cease-fire by disarming.
In his statement, de Chastelain said he and his U.S. and Finnish deputies "witnessed a major decommissioning event involving arms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices belonging to the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando." The latter organization is a small splinter group of the UVF.
But de Chastelain offered no view on whether the weapons represented the total UVF arsenal. He said UVF commanders "advised us that the weapons and material put beyond use in our presence include all the arms under their control," but he declined to back that claim.
De Chastelain is expected to report formal findings in August to the British and Irish governments. It could be his final report to the governments, which in 1997 tasked him with overseeing the push to disarm all of Northern Ireland's rival illegal armies.
He already oversaw the total disarmament of the best-armed group, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, from 2001 to 2005 _ although IRA splinter groups rooted in Northern Ireland's Catholic minority have retained their own supplies and continue to plot attacks, most recently by killing two British soldiers and a policeman in March.
The Canadian also confirmed that he and his deputies on June 16 witnessed a partial act of disarmament by Northern Ireland's other major Protestant paramilitary group, the Ulster Defense Association. He described that weapons handover as "a significant move."
Together the UDA and UVF have killed nearly 1,000 people, mostly Catholic civilians, since the late 1960s. Both groups have largely observed their 1994 cease-fire, but until recent years insisted they would not disarm, citing the continuing attacks of IRA dissidents.
Analysts agree that both groups are finally moving on disarmament now because of a British government threat to shut down de Chastelain's commission, which offers outlawed groups the opportunity to dispose of illegal weaponry without fear of facing arrest and imprisonment.
In a statement issued Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the UDA-UVF disarmament moves as the latest evidence of "remarkable progress that has taken place in Northern Ireland."
She said First Minister Peter Robinson, the Protestant who leads Northern Ireland's 2-year-old government coalition with Catholics, and other Protestant politicians "should be commended for their efforts in convincing these groups to take this courageous step."

Updated : 2021-01-28 18:14 GMT+08:00