Adams puts case for IRA keeping arms

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The Independent Online

The international commission on the decommissioning of arms, led by the former US senator George Mitchell, last night completed four days of intensive initial hearings in Belfast and Dublin at the start of its attempt to resolve the impasse over paramilitary weapons.

Mr Mitchell said the three-man body would be drawing no conclusions after what he described as "candid and informative" submissions from both governments and all political parties except Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party.

He said the commission would remain in close contact over Christmas while reviewing the submissions, before returning to the Irish Republic in the New Year. Mr Mitchell did not rule out meeting paramilitary representatives directly, but stressed that this should not be interpreted as necessarily meaning that he would.

Asked if some parties revealed closer links to paramilitaries than publicly indicated, he said "in some cases, yes", but declined to elaborate. He added that he expected the body's report to be made public.

In its submission yesterdaySinn Fein urged the decommissioning body to recognise that the task of removing all arms from the Northern Ireland conflict would not be resolved simply by disarming Republicans.

The party's president, Gerry Adams, said its submission was a "political" one, and yesterday's initial session did not involve establishing an inventory of what weaponry the IRA holds, but had dealt with the arms issue in what he termed "a global way".

This entailed arguing for disarmament of all factions including withdrawal of British security forces, and not just Republican elements. The five- strong Sinn Fein delegation also included the ard chomhairle (executive) member Martin McGuinness and the vice- president, Pat Doherty.

In the two-and-a-half hour early morning meeting at Dublin Castle, Mr Adams and colleagues dealt at length with loyalists weapons, some of which Sinn Fein maintain were supplied by British military intelligence, and with the number of privately held firearms among Unionists.

The submission challenged British assertions that the security forces could not be assessed in the same context as paramilitaries. Sinn Fein raised alleged collusion between British intelligence and loyalist paramilitaries, and included video evidence relating to the case of Brian Nelson, jailed in 1992 for conspiracy to murder and possessing information of use to terrorists.

Mr Adams said afterwards the meeting had been "constructive and positive". He had been impressed by the speed and urgency with which Mr Mitchell and his colleagues were approaching their task.

He added that in three days the commission had met more people and heard more submissions than the British government had over 16 months since the IRA ceasefire.

Mr Adams appeared more optimistic than on Friday, when he said Sinn Fein would not speak any more authoritatively on IRA weapons than other parties. This caused raised eyebrows among Irish government figures who insisted that during autumn discussions in Dublin Sinn Fein gave assurances it would speak for the IRA.

The commission was on its second day in Dublin, after two days in Belfast hearing from British and Northern Ireland parties.

Other submissions yesterday came from the Irish government, delivered by the foreign minister, Dick Spring, and the justice minister, Nora Owen; from Garda Siochana representatives who gave detailed intelligence on the scale of the IRA arsenal; and Irish Catholic and Protestant Church of Ireland leaders.