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2001: IRA begins decommissioning weapons
The Northern Ireland peace process has reached an historic breakthrough as the IRA announced they had begun decommissioning their weapons.

In a statement the IRA said: "In order to save the peace process we have implemented the scheme agreed with the IICD [Independent International Commission on Decommissioning] in August 2001."

General John de Chastelain, head of the IICD confirmed the action.

"We have now witnessed an event which we regard as significant in which the IRA has put a quantity of arms completely beyond use. The material in question includes arms, ammunition and explosives" he said.

A very significant milestone has been passed
British Prime Minister Tony Blair
British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised the Sinn Fein leadership for the "boldness of this move."

"This is a peace process that despite it all is working. We are a very long way from finishing our journey but a very significant milestone has been passed," he added.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern also welcomed the move, recognising that "taking this step has meant a lot to the leadership of the IRA and I fully acknowledge that this was not an easy decision for them."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who recommended the move, described the announcement as "a huge, liberating leap forward".

"At a time when there is international calamity in the world, this shows that matters can be resolved through politics," he said.

The absence of decommissioning arms, a move pledged in the Good Friday Agreement, has been one of the main stumbling blocks in the peace process but this move looks set to renew the agreement.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said, "There is now clear evidence of a commitment." He added that he was now ready to return to the power sharing executive with Sinn Fein.

Despite the IRA statement and assurances from the IICD, there are concerns that the IRA will retain enough weapons to be capable of causing massive damage.

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General John de Chastelain
The IICD chief confirmed the move

In Context
Having resigned as first minister to encourage the IRA into decommissioning weapons David Trimble was re-elected to the position in November 2001.

The plan for the IRA to decommission its weapons was set out in the Good Friday Agreement which was signed in 1998.

The issue of decommissioning remained the major stumbling block in talks between all parties seeking to restore devolution since the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in October 2002.

Five years of direct rule ended in May 2007 when power-sharing was restored when DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness took office as first and deputy first ministers.

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