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IRA vows to step up disarmament to save accord

Ahead of a crucial weekend, the British and Irish seek ways to limit damage to the peace accord.

By Anne CadwalladerSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / September 21, 2001



BELFAST

The terrorist attacks in the US are triggering increasing pressure on the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to disarm.

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"The world changed last week. We need to close a chapter in our own history, on the armed struggle of the IRA, and move on," says Mairtin O'Muilleoir, an ex-councilor of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing. "There's a global debate under way, and we need to be on the right side."

The peace process here stalled almost six weeks ago, after the IRA refused to accede to Ulster Unionist demands and provide a timetable to lay down weapons. But last week's attacks in the US have stepped up pressure on the IRA to move much faster and further.

Tim Pat Coogan, author of a history of the IRA, says that everything has changed forever, and that, if Irish republicans fail to respond, they risk losing vital support in the US and, electorally, south of the border in Ireland itself.

Meanwhile, In the words of Nobel peace prize-winner, John Hume, who this week announced his resignation as leader of the moderate Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party, it could mean "the removal of the gun from Irish politics forever."

On Wednesday, the IRA issued a statement saying it would intensify its talks with the Independent International Body on Decommissioning, a three-man panel set up by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

In its statement, the IRA voiced sympathy to the victims of the US attacks and pledged to accelerate progress toward resolving the arms issue, while saying that progress will be "directly influenced" by the other parties in the peace process, particularly the British government.

Greater US pressure for IRA decommissioning was evident even before last week's catastrophes, however.

Last month, three suspected IRA members were arrested while carrying false passports in Colombia, accused of helping train left-wing guerrillas in that country's civil war. The IRA has denieda connection. During their meeting in Belfast this week, President Bush's envoy, Richard Haass, told Sinn Fein firmly of the US government's foreign-policy and national-security interests in that region.

Sinn Fein sources insist their Irish-American friends have been at pains to make clear that they see no equivalence between the IRA's stand on decommissioning its weapons and the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

Almost since the day in August 1994 when the IRA announced "cessation of military operations," the focus of British and Protestant/unionist pressure has been to get the IRA to take another step and dispose of its weapons.

The IRA says the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, including a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland and the dismantling of British military installations, will provide the political context for "complete and verifiable" disarming.

Loyalist paramilitary groups, while maintaining far smaller arsenals than the IRA's, because their targets were unarmed civilians, have been holding fire to see how far republicans would go, and have yet to decommission any weapons.

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