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Thursday, April 30, 1998 Published at 20:56 GMT 21:56 UK

IRA 'must hand over weapons'
image: [ A pledge to disarm within two years is part of the deal ]
A pledge to disarm within two years is part of the deal

The Northern Ireland Secretary has warned that the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons is an essential part of the Northern Ireland peace settlement.

Real Video: BBC Correspondent Mark Devenport reports from Belfast
Mo Mowlam's comments came after an IRA statement which said that the group would not give up any of its arms.

The statement has enraged the Ulster Unionists, who say Sinn Fein, the IRA's parliamentary ally, should be excluded from the peace process.

Mo Mowlam: "In the end, parties must make an overall judgement" (27")
Downing Street insisted that the statement, which appears in Sinn Fein's weekly newspaper, An Phoblacht/Republican News, did not amount to a rejection of the peace plan hammered out at Stormont.

But Ms Mowlam said a pledge to achieve paramilitary disarmament within two years is an essential part of the deal.

She said the IRA could not pick and choose which bits of the agreement they liked.

The UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, said: "It is not surprising that the IRA are saying this at this stage.

John Taylor: "The IRA and Sinn Fein are yet again trying to wreck the peace process" (1'57")
"This is a package and a whole package and in the referendum people will be voting on the whole package."

But John Taylor, Deputy Leader of the Ulster Unionists, insisted: "There must be decommissioning.

"Until there is decommissioning there can be no release of prisoners, nor can there be any participation of Sinn Fein in the new executive in Northern Ireland.

"We certainly couldn't work with Sinn Fein while it retained an illegally-armed army."

Gerry Adams asks: "What did people expect the IRA to say?" (3'33")
The Sinn Fein Presdident Gerry Adams said the Ulster Unionists' comments were nonsense and said he was determined to work towards peace.

Sinn Fein will decide their final response to the agreement at conference to be held in 10 days time.

The BBC's Ireland Correspondent Mark Devenport said: "The IRA statement allows the party's leaders sufficient leeway to encourage their supporters to buy into the deal.

"But it has also enabled Sinn Fein's critics to level the charge that the republicans' commitment to peaceful politics is paper-thin."

Meanwhile, the chairman of the peace talks, the former United States Senator George Mitchell, is leaving Ireland to go home to America.

On Thursday, he told business leaders in Northern Ireland of the need for stability and compromise.

"Investors must feel that they have a secure place in which to invest their funds and people must feel that they have a safe and secure place in which to raise their families," he said.

"That will only occur and be sustained if the two communities can live together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance."

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