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Northern Ireland's paramilitaries dump arsenal
Sat Jun 27, 2009 8:40pm EDT
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By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST (Reuters) - Pro-British paramilitary forces Saturday completed a historic step in the Northern Ireland peace process by scrapping their weapons in front of independent witnesses.
The moves, confirmed by the British and Irish governments, underscored commitment across the sectarian divide to ending violence but did not remove a threat from hard-line splinter groups operating on both sides.
"The struggle has ended," said the Ulster Defense Association, which has also begun to fully decommission arms. "Peace and democracy have been secured and the need for armed resistance has gone. Consequently we are putting our arsenal of weaponry permanently beyond use."
An Ulster Volunteer Force statement was read to reporters in Belfast by a man representing the UVF and the Red Hand Commando and wearing an ordinary suit, a change from when paramilitary spokesmen addressed the media in masks, toting guns.
"The leadership of the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando today confirms it has completed the process of rendering ordnance totally and irreversibly beyond use," the UVF and the RHC statement said.
The UVF killed more than 540 people during 30 years of conflict with pro-Irish nationalists, making it the most lethal of the province's loyalist groups.
Northern Ireland has enjoyed relative peace since a 1998 deal ended the predominantly Catholic Irish Republican Army's military campaign to end British control of the province and unite the island of Ireland.
'AN IMPORTANT LANDMARK'
"In recent years, loyalist organizations have been making effective progress toward conflict transformation, and today is an important landmark in this process," said Ireland's Foreign Minister Micheal Martin.
Mainly Protestant military organizations that want to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom have been under pressure for years to start getting rid of arms following the IRA's decision to dispose of its weapons in 2005.
"The leadership of the UVF and RHC have delivered on what they said they would do," said Shaun Woodward, Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, confirming the UVF and RHC had completed decommissioning in cooperation with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the actions by the paramilitary forces.
"The announcements underscore the remarkable progress that has taken place in Northern Ireland over the years," Clinton said in a statement. "All parties agree, as the people of Northern Ireland do, that the only way forward is through peace and reconciliation, and not through violence."
More than 3,600 people were killed in violence between the late 1960s and the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that paved the way for power sharing.
Efforts to consolidate peace were challenged in March when Republican splinter groups the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA killed two British soldiers and a policeman. Continued...
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TIMELINE: Ups and downs of the Northern Ireland peace process
27 Jun 2009
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