IRA 'will not bow to demands for decommissioning'

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The Independent Online

The sense of crisis in the Northern Ireland peace process initially deepened last night as the IRA said in a hardline statement that it would not bow to unionist or British government pressure on arms decommissioning. But, although its statement was dismissed by the Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, it was welcomed by the British and Irish governments, suggesting that they drew comfort from some of the statement's less confrontational elements.

The IRA claimed that, while it had honoured every commitment it had given, the Government had reneged on assurances concerning policing and demilitarisation. It insisted: "Those who want to contradict this are being dishonest. They are too intelligent to delude themselves and are only misleading themselves and the public."

The organisation has been coming under increasing pressure not just from Unionists and London but also from Irish nationalist sources to deliver substantial movement on the disarmament issue.

The Dublin government has been to the fore in saying that this is what would defuse the sense of possible disaster. Mr Trimble has said he will resign as First Minister in the absence of movement on weapons.

The IRA statement is seen as a repeat of the familiar IRA line that it will not be pressurised by ultimatums. At the same time, optimists last night noted that the organisation had carefully left itself an escape clause by using the formulation: "We restate our belief that the issue of arms can be resolved but it will not be resolved by Unionist ultimatums or on British terms."

The IRA has in the past made some movement on arms, though in ways which were not generally expected, such as agreeing to allow international observers to monitor some of its arms dumps. The two governments clearly hope that the defiant statement will not rule out movement over the coming weeks.

Mr Trimble reacted by saying that republicans were not living in the real world, and were putting the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement at risk.

He added: "It is dishonest to represent decommissioning as just a Unionist demand. It is the requirement of the Agreement backed by the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland and in the republic."

The Northern Ireland Secretary, John Reid, and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, welcomed the IRA statement.