IRA moves one step closer to disarming
ARIZONA DAILY WILDCAT
Thursday September 20, 2001
DUBLIN, Ireland - The Irish Republican Army offered yesterday to renew negotiations with disarmament officials, increasing chances that Britain would extend Northern Ireland's unraveling Catholic-Protestant government.
The outlawed IRA said in a statement it would resume talks with retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, leader of a 4-year-old disarmament commission. The IRA broke off negotiations last month.
The IRA offered to "intensify the engagement" with de Chastelain "with a view to accelerating progress towards the comprehensive resolution of this issue."
But as in all of its previous statements on the matter, the IRA offered no assurance that it would ever allow de Chastelain's team to dismantle any weapons from the IRA's many secret arms bunkers, as the 1998 peace accord anticipated should happen.
And leaders of Northern Ireland's major Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, dismissed the words as hopelessly inadequate. The IRA's long-standing refusal to scrap weapons has sapped Protestant support for cooperating with the IRA-linked Sinn Fein, one of two Catholic parties in the four-party coalition.
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, who resigned in July as the government's leader in protest at the IRA's unwillingness to disarm, has insisted he would not run for re-election unless the IRA actually starts. Political analysts agree that Trimble would receive too few Protestant votes within Northern Ireland's legislature even if he tried.
Lawmakers must vote by Saturday - unless, as is highly likely to happen, Britain steps in by stripping local politicians of power.
Britain has already forestalled the make-or-break vote once, when it suspended local powers for a 24-hour period one day before the original Aug. 12 voting deadline. That legal maneuver created another six weeks when the Northern Ireland administration could operate while all sides negotiated. That six-week breathing space ends Saturday.
According to the laws governing how Northern Ireland's administration operates, the entire administration must be dissolved if it goes for more than six weeks without a leader. Britain and all parties that support the 1998 pact agree they should avoid the total collapse of the administration if possible.
In another significant part of its statement, the IRA broke its silence on last month's arrests of three suspected IRA weapons experts in Colombia, where military chiefs have accused them of training Marxist rebels in violation of the IRA's 1997 cease-fire.
The arrests deeply embarrassed Sinn Fein, particularly after Cuba identified one of the men as Sinn Fein's Havana-based representative for Latin America. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams still intends to travel to Cuba within weeks to thank Fidel Castro for his long-standing support.
"We wish to make it clear that the Army Council sent no one to Colombia to train or to engage in any military cooperation with any group," said the IRA, which is led by a seven-member council. "The IRA has not interfered in the internal affairs of Colombia and will not so do. The IRA is not a threat to the peace process in Ireland or in Colombia."
Colombian authorities are holding the three men without bail while prosecutors prepare their case, a process that could take several more months.