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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
'Significant' IRA arms move praised
The IRA's first move to get rid of weapons is "significant," according to Northern Ireland's independent arms body.

The material included arms, ammunition and explosives, it said.


We have witnessed an event which we regard as significant in which the IRA has put a quantity of arms beyond use

Decommissioning Body
Confirming its move, the IRA described its decision as an "unprecedented" decision to save the peace process and a demonstration to others of its genuine intentions.

This is the first time that an Irish republican group which has violently resisted the British presence in Ireland has ever disposed of weaponry in this way.

Three hours after the move, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble left a meeting with Gen John de Chastelain, head of the international arms body, and said that he would be recommending that his party return to the power-sharing institutions with Sinn Fein.

John de Chastelain: Head of the decommissioning body
John de Chastelain: Witnessed IRA move
It is unclear whether this would happen before the assembly faces suspension at midnight on Thursday.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair paid tribute to the Sinn Fein leadership for their "boldness" in guiding the IRA away from violence.

"This is a peace process that, despite it all, is working," he said.

"We are a long way from finishing our journey but a very significant milestone has been passed".

Mr Blair called on all paramilitaries to hand in their weapons and warned against the actions of loyalist and republican dissidents.

President George Bush also warmly welcomed the IRA move.

"The people of Northern Ireland are now measurably closer to the lasting peace which they richly deserve," he said.

Long-awaited move

The IRA move - long demanded by unionists - seems certain to breathe new life into the troubled peace process which had reached a crisis-point over decommissioning, rising tension and full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.


Our motivation is clear. This unprecedented move is to save the peace process and to persuade others of our genuine intentions.

IRA statement
Mr Trimble quit as NI First Minister in July in protest over a lack of IRA decommissioning. The final Ulster Unionist ministers followed this month, setting a final deadline for a deal before the institutions - and potentially the Good Friday Agreement - collapsed.

The IRA statement referred to a political process on the "point of collapse" and said such a "collapse would certainly and eventually put the overall peace process in jeopardy".

Its motivation is disposing of some weapons was "to save the peace process", the statement said.

While all eyes are not on unionists and their expected re-entry into government, the UK government is also expected to respond swiftly by scaling back some controversial military bases in the border area south Armagh.

"Courageous move"

Ulster Unionist ministers may return to the assembly before the deadline.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State John Reid said the move was "hugely significant in terms of the process".

"There isn't any precedent for this. It takes the whole process to a different plain because we can now concentrate on getting the stability of the institutions and illustrating the primacy of politics.


This is a day we were told would never happen - IRA decommissioning

David Trimble
"We have achieved what some people said would not be achieved."

He said the government would be responding to the IRA move.

Sinn Fein's leadership, who on Monday revealed they had urged the IRA to make a "groundbreaking move", hailed the decommissioning as "truly historic."

Party president Gerry Adams said the IRA announcement was a "huge, liberating leap forward".

"Many people who don't want change have used the arms issue, or at least the IRA arms issue, as a reason for not embracing the peace process," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Denis Murray
"Sectarian hatred doesn't disappear overnight"
BBC NI's chief security correspondent Brian Rowan
"Since the Gerry Adams speech this statement has been expected"

Assembly back

IRA arms breakthrough

Background

Loyalist ceasefire

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