Ceasefires 'must not be undervalued'

Mitchell report: Committee says differences on decommissioning should not obscure widespread support for disarmament

Ireland Correspondent

The Mitchell report made the opening point that the republican and loyalist ceasefires had lasted almost a year and a half - saying that despite "punishment" killings and beatings, the sustained observance of the ceasefires should not be undervalued.

It said that differences on the timing and context of decommissioning should not obscure the near-universal support that existed for the total and verifiable disarmament of all paramilitary organisations.

The report said that to reach an agreed political settlement there had to be commitment to fundamental principles of democracy and non-violence. It set out six such principles, including a commitment to exclusively peaceful means, the total and verifiable disarmament of all paramilitary groups and the urging of an end to all "punishment" killings and beatings. It said parties should commit themselves that opposition to any new agreement should be confined to peaceful methods.

The report concluded that there was a clear commitment on the part of those who held arms to work constructively towards decommissioning, but added that they would not do so prior to all-party negotiations.

It said the latter point was the view of the vast majority of the organisations and individuals which had made submissions to it, adding: "Many favour [prior decommissioning] but they are convinced that it will not happen. That is the reality with which all concerned must deal."

The report declared: "As progress is made on political issue, even modest mutual steps on decommissioning could help create the atmosphere needed for further steps in a progressive pattern of mounting trust and confidence."

Dealing with decommissioning itself, the report said the process should suggest neither victory nor defeat. "Amnesties should be established in law in both jurisdictions. Armaments made available for decommissioning, whether directly or indirectly, should be exempt in law from forensic examination. Information obtained as a result of the decommissioning process should be inadmissible as evidence in courts of law."

In addition to its recommendations, the report listed a number of ideas that could build confidence: paramilitary groups could end surveillance of possible targets, provide information about those missing and believed dead, and lift threats against people. Measures for the authorities to consider included action on prisoners, a review of emergency legislation, the use of plastic bullets and the religious make-up of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The report added that several submissions had raised the idea of an elected body. It noted: "If it were broadly acceptable, with an appropriate mandate, and within the three-strand (ie Belfast-London-Dublin) structure, an elective process could contribute to the building of confidence."

General John de Chastelain, 58

Was first appointed Chief of the Canadian Defence Staff in 1989, a post he held until 1993, when he transferred to the reserves and was appointed ambassador to the US. The following year, he was recalled to active duty and reappointed to defence staff. It was the crowning moment of military career that began in 1955 as a private in the Canadian Army Militia. In 1965 he served as a company commander in the United Nations Force in Cyprus, rising to command a battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry from 1970 to 1972. He is a past president of the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association and a former vice-president of the Scouts of Canada. With wife Mary, he has a son, a daughter and two grand-daughters.

George Mitchell, 61

A former Senator who serves on a number of corporate boards and lectures at colleges and universities throughout the US. Appointed to the Senate in 1980 to fill the unexpired term of Senator Edmund Muskie, resigning as a federal judge to take up the post before being re-elected in 1982 and 1988. As senator, elected as Senate majority leader in three consecutive Congresses. Leading light on environmental issues, he led effort for 1990 Clean Air Act. US District Court Judge from 1979 to 1980 and US Attorney for Maine in 1977 to 1979. Born in Waterville, Maine, served in Berlin as US Army counter-intelligence officer. Married to a businesswoman, Heather MacLachlen, and has one daughter, Anthea, by a previous marriage.

Harri Holkeri, 58

To be prime minister of Finland from 1987 to 1991 was the culmination of a long political career for Harri Holkeri. He rose to prominence in politics as secretary general of the National Coalition Party in 1965, becoming chairman in 1971 until 1979. He became an MP in 1970, serving as a member of the foreign affairs committee and chairing the parliamentary supervisors of the Bank of Finland. In the two years that preceded his move into politics in the mid-1960s he was a member of the Finnish delegation at the UN, a year after graduating from Helsinki University in 1962. He holds the rank of major in the Reserve Army and has a son, daughter and three grandchildren from his marriage to Marja-Liisa in 1960.