N.Irish militants give up weapons
BELFAST (Reuters) - One of Northern Ireland's deadliest paramilitary groups has dumped all of its weapons in front of independent witnesses, just ahead of a deadline that marks the latest step in the province's peace process.
The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and the body overseeing disarmament announced firearms, explosives and other ammunition had been given up, confirming what sources told Reuters at the weekend.
"We make no apology for our part in the conflict," Martin McMonagle, a senior member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political wing of the INLA, told reporters, some four months after the group declared an end to its armed struggle.
"We believe that conditions have now changed in such a way that other options are open to revolutionaries in order to pursue and ultimately achieve our objectives."
The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) was set up by the British and Irish governments in 1997 in the run-up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended three decades of violence that cost 3,600 lives.
In one of the biggest steps since that accord, the parties in Northern Ireland's power-sharing government agreed last week a deal on transferring control of police and justice powers from London to Belfast.
The commission did not specify how many weapons had been decommissioned, but said all arms under the INLA control had been surrendered.
The Official Irish Republican Army also completed decommissioning its weapons, the IICD said. The Official IRA emerged from a 1969 schism in the republican guerrilla group that also produced the Provisional IRA, the main force in what became known as "The Troubles." The Officials declared a cease-fire in 1972 and took little part in later violence.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown added in a statement to parliament the last loyalist organisation the Southeast Antrim UDA had given up its arms.
Legislation that allows the IICD to carry out its work and militants from both sides -- loyalists who want Northern Ireland to stay part of Britain and republicans who seek a united Ireland -- to hand over arms without penalty expires on Tuesday.
"Other small militarist factions, both republican and loyalist, who are opposed to the peace process need now also to reflect on their position given the political realities of 2010 and end their futile armed actions," said Gerry Kelly of the nationalist Sinn Fein party.
SPORADIC VIOLENCE INCREASING
Last week's deal between Sinn Fein and First Minister Peter Robinson's Democratic Unionist Party on the devolution of policing averted the collapse of their joint government, reinforcing the political process and in theory lowering the threat of dissident military activity.
Sporadic attacks had been slowing increasing after Republican dissident groups killed two British soldiers and a policeman in March last year. Police said last week the risk of some violence was still severe.
The 1998 peace deal was followed by pledges from the main militant organisations, including the Irish Republican Army (IRA), blamed for half the deaths during the decades of conflict, to disarm.
Politically to the left of the IRA, the INLA, a small but ruthless splinter group, was involved in at least 120 murders during the decades of bloodshed.
It killed Margaret Thatcher's Northern Ireland spokesman Airey Neave with a bomb under his car in the House of Commons car park weeks before she was elected prime minister in 1979.
It was also responsible for killing 17 soldiers and civilians at the Droppin' Well pub in Ballykelly in the Northern Irish county of Derry three years later.
(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in London; Writing by Andras Gergely and Barbara Lewis in Dublin; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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