Guns handover with Army won't happen, says IRA

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The Independent Online

The IRA has denied reports that it favours a "day of reconciliation" in which some of its guns, with weapons from the security forces, would be handed over in a ceremonial act ofdecommissioning.

The IRA has denied reports that it favours a "day of reconciliation" in which some of its guns, with weapons from the security forces, would be handed over in a ceremonial act ofdecommissioning.

The movement's assertion was confirmed last night by a senior non-republican source with intimate knowledge of the recent negotiations involving republicans and the British and Irish governments.

The clarifications came after days of sometimes overheated media speculation claiming that such a symbolic act could be the basis for a resolution of the decommissioning issue.

It is known that the idea of a day of reconciliation was recently resurrected by the Irish government, which had unsuccessfully proposed it last year. But the proposal has not been endorsed by the IRA or the British Government, neither of whom views it as a particularly promising notion.

An IRA spokesman told journalists in Belfast last night that a recent IRA proposal had not contained an offer of a day of reconciliation, a decommissioning timetable or of a link between decommissioning and demilitarisation. He would not enlarge, however, on what had been on the table.

All these proposals have featured in recent media speculation. The IRA's clarification seemed aimed at dispelling misconceptions but most of all at calming any concern in the grassroots IRA and Sinn Fein membership that major concessions had been made on the arms issue.

A close observer said: "It sounds like they're telling their troops not to believe everything they believe in the papers. Nobody wants to rule out the day of reconciliation idea, largely because there aren't that many good ideas about, but it's always been an idea and has never been made into a firm proposal."

The IRA spokesman made a point of repeating the organisation's recent statement that any and all IRA offers were off the table and that contacts had been severed with General John de Chastelain's decommissioning body.

Last night Whitehall seemed also to be in the business of calming its troops, with Downing Street and the Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, reacting to reported anger among the armed forces.

"The involvement of the British Army has been discussed. There is no question of equivalence," said a No 10 spokesman. "The idea that there is any equivalence between a man in a beret and a man in a balaclava is obviously nonsense."

But No 10 failed to rule out the possibility that the British Army could be involved in some form of weapons decommissioning with its own arms.

Mr Hoon attempted to defuse the row in his own ranks by assuring MPs: "Peter Mandelson [Secretary of State for Northern Ireland] has made clear that the Government cannot and will not contemplate anything which suggests any equivalence between the security forces and terrorists. There is no such 'gun swap plan' and there is no way in which such equivalence would be acceptable."

The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "The idea of an act of reconciliation has been discussed in the past. It was one of the elements in the Hillsborough declaration. It was accepted by the two governments and the Ulster Unionists and rejected by Sinn Fein at the time."

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