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The BBC's Denis Murray in Belfast
"Republicans have moved as far as they can"
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The Ulster Unionist Leader, David Trimble
"We have seen the Republican movement squander the best opportunity they've had to date"
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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 21:16 GMT
IRA ends arms talks

IRA says it is withdrawing from decommissioning body

The IRA has broken off contact with the body supervising arms decommissioning in a major blow to the Northern Ireland peace process.

The Search for Peace
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The IRA statement comes as crisis talks are being held to try to find a break in the deadlock over the decommissioning of terrorist weapons in Northern Ireland.

The absence of any agreement over the handover of IRA weapons led to the suspension of the nine-week-old power sharing Stormont government on Friday.

The UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern are due to meet in London to discuss the crisis on Wednesday.

Prior to the IRA statement being released the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams had what he described as "a very bad meeting" with the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson. Mr Adams said his party had no further room for manoeuvre on the arms issue.

Those who seek a military victory in this way need to understand that this cannot and will not happen
IRA statement
The IRA statement released on Tuesday said: "On November 17 the leadership of the IRA agreed to appoint a representative to enter into discussions with the IICD(The decommissioning body).

"This was on the basis that it would be part of a series of events including, and in particular, the establishment of political institutions set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

"This was designed to move the situation out of an 18 month impasse."

Unionists accused

The statement accuses the British government and the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party of rejecting the propositions put to the decommissioning body by its representative.

It said: "Those who made the political process conditional on the decommissioning of silent IRA guns are responsible for the current crisis in the peace process.

"In the light of these changed circumstances the leadership of the IRA have decided to end our engagement with the IICD.

I believe this is a time when all channels need to be kept open
Peter Mandelson
"We are also withdrawing all propositions put to the IICD by our representative since November."

The IRA statement will be seen as a major blow to the peace process, although it has seen many significant setbacks in the past.

The decision, although adding to the current gloom surrounding the political deadlock in Northern Ireland, is not viewed as an immediate threat to the IRA ceasefire.

Unionists are adamant that the IRA must give up some guns before they share power with republicans.

Real potential

The IRA says it will not consider giving up any weapons under pressure from either the UK government or unionists.

The Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble described the IRA statement as "precipitous" and asked republicans how progress was possible from this point.

Speaking after a meeting with General John de Chastelain, Mr Trimble held out hope that the peace process could recover from the latest setback.

David Trimble: Hopeful process can 'bounce back'
"Hopes of bouncing back are not high at the moment - but should not be ruled out," he said.

The UUP leader said the latest IRA statement supported his belief that the paramilitary group's move on Friday had been a "publicity gesture".

Sinn Fein assembly member Mitchel McLaughlin said the IRA's latest statement was a direct result of the suspension of the powersharing executive.

"Now what we have to do, what Sinn Fein is actively engaged in, is reversing that decision and that's what we've been talking to Peter Mandelson about today."

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson described the IRA statement as disappointing.

He said: "I believe this is a time when all channels need to be kept open. What was on the table had real potential and people will be sad that it could not be worked on and developed in the way that is needed."

An Irish government source said the IRA statement underlined the need to quickly re-establish the institutions of government suspended last week.

He said he hoped the IRA's withdrawal of co-operation with General de Chastelain would be a temporary act.

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See also:
15 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
IRA statement in full
15 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
'Disappointment' at IRA move
15 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
Adams: No room to move on arms
11 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
Second De Chastelain report in full
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