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John de Chastelain
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John De Chastelain
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• John De Chastelain on LVF decommissioning

John De Chastelain

Before 1995, General John de Chastelain's only experience in Northern Ireland had been a stopover on a childhood visit to the Irish Republic. But far from being daunted, he has been widely lauded for his ability to grasp the complexities of the situation.

Although Canadian, the chairman of the International Commission on Decommissioning is British by upbringing. The son of a Scottish oil engineer and an American-born mother, he was born in Romania and educated in Fettes, Edinburgh. He followed his parents to Canada when he was 18.

Instead of Oxford he chose the Canadian Royal Military College. In the military, he rose quickly through the ranks, serving in Germany and Cyprus. In 1990, he played a key role in the Oka Crisis, a two month stand-off between Mohawk Indians and the Canadian army over attempts to turn Mohawk burial lands into a recreational area.

Gen de Chastelain supervised the negotiations with the Mohawks which resolved the dispute. The solution led to the decommissioning of some Mohawk weapons.

He was rewarded in 1993 when he was appointed Canada's ambassador to the United States, a post usually reserved for high-ranking diplomats. A year later he was made Chief of Defence Staff.

But his career has not been without its moments of controversy.

An inquiry into the torture and death of a Somali teenager at the hands of members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment said he "failed as a commander" as defence chief when the troops were sent on their disastrous 1992 peace-keeping mission.

Nevertheless, friends of the General believe that he is up to the task ahead.

The General himself was optimistic when he took the post, and his July 1999 report on the prospect of decommissioning concluded that it was the commission's "considered view" that paramilitary decommissioning would meet the May 2000 deadline.

That deadline was missed. But at the same time the IRA made its unprecedented offerto allow independent international inspectors into some of its arms dumps.

They confirmed that they had put in place measures [unknown] to make sure that the arms could not be used without their knowledge.

But on the crucial issue of decommissioning - or the IRA's preferred phrase "placing arms beyond use" - Northern Ireland is still waiting for General John de Chastelain to confirm it has taken place to his satisfaction.

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