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Friday, July 2, 1999 Published at 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK


UK

Arms report offers new hope for peace

John de Chastelain's report says decommissioning is possible by next May

An independent report into the surrender of paramilitary weapons in Northern Ireland has presented fresh hopes that the deadlock over the issue can be broken.

The report produced by the international decommissioning body in Northern Ireland headed by Canadian General John de Chastelain said decommissioning was possible by 22 May 2000.

The Search for Peace
The document, handed to the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern, also said the process of disarmament should begin as soon as possible.

"The commission is ready and willing to start. It has emphasised its intention to conduct decommissioning in a way that is honourable, safe, verifiable, complete and free from the fear of prosecution," said the report.


[ image: The delayed report was given to Tony Blair]
The delayed report was given to Tony Blair
Once a timetable had been worked out, paramilitary groups would be expected to adhere to it to ensure completion by next May.

At the same time, the commission would report on progress to the two governments.

The report said: "In anticipation that this proposal may translate into a commitment to decommission paramilitary arms, the commission believes that to complete its mandate by 22 May 2000, the process of decommissioning should begin as soon as possible."

It said it was the commission's "considered view" that a process of decommissioning began when a paramilitary group gave an "unambiguous commitment that decommissioning would be complete by this date".

The report was supposed to have been published on 30 June but the general was asked by the two governments to postpone it until Friday to allow for further negotiations.

It may now be up to Mr Blair and Mr Ahern to decide what the next steps in the Northern Ireland peace process will be.

War of words

Politicians in the province have so far failed to reach agreement over the decommissioning issue - and the 30 June deadline set by the British and Irish prime ministers for any agreement has passed.

Although talks resumed again on Friday morning there was an air of gloom about the proceedings.

On Thursday, Sinn Fein stated it believed in good faith that it could persuade those with arms to decommission them in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement.

But its proposal was rejected by the Ulster Unionists.

On the way into Friday's negotiations, Sinn Fein spokesman, Martin McGuiness, repeated his party's determination and blamed the deadlock on the unionists.

He said the unionists had been calling for them both to "jump together".

"We have jumped. If I look behind me I see the spoilt children rooted firmly in the past," he said.

David Trimble, of the Ulster Unionists conceded that Sinn Fein had "moved a bit" on the issue of decommissioning - but not enough.

He said his party was prepared to wait until the IRA itself proved it was ready to disarm, even if it meant "parking" the present peace talks.





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