ULSTER PEACE TALKS: Governments greet a `useful' disarmament report

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The Independent Online
THE DE CHASTELAIN REPORT on decommissioning, published yesterday afternoon following a long wait, is viewed by the British and Irish governments as politically useful in looking ahead to both the possibility and the technicalities of disarmament.

Canadian General John de Chastelain, who in more than three years of involvement in Northern Ireland has developed a reputation for almost boundless patience, has made a number of helpful points for the governments' approach.

He cast no doubt on the intention of the IRA to disarm, and furthermore noted that the process of decommissioning may be deemed to have begun once an unambiguous commitment is made. In other words, decommissioning can be said to be under way in advance of guns actually being handed over or destroyed.

His report will therefore come to be seen as a key building block in the approach of Dublin and London to having decommissioning become a reality. The following is an edited text of his report:

The initial request for this report came from the two governments, pursuant to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. The Independent Commission on Decommissioning was asked specifically to comment on progress achieved to date and on prospects for future decommissioning. On 29 June the Commission was prepared to deliver its report to the British and Irish Governments, but the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach requested that delivery be deferred, in the belief that there would be developments having direct relevance to this report. This has proved to be the case.

On 1 July, Sinn Fein published a proposal in which they said the following: "... we believe that all of us, as participants acting in good faith, could succeed in persuading those with arms to decommission them in accordance with the Agreement. We agree that this should be in the manner set down by the Independent Commission on Decommissioning within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement."

In anticipation that this proposal may translate into a commitment to decommission paramilitary arms, the Commission believes that to complete its mandate by 22 May 2000, the process of decommissioning should begin as soon as possible.

The Decommissioning Scheme and Regulations approved by the two governments provide that the process of decommissioning is deemed to have commenced when the Commission is satisfied it has received notice of an intention to decommission arms on behalf of a paramilitary organisation, and that such notice contains sufficient information to indicate a clear intention to decommission specified arms.

The Commission will be guided by these provisions. It is the Commission's considered view that the "process of decommissioning" begins in connection with a paramilitary group when it (a) gives an unambiguous commitment that decommissioning will be completed by 22 May 2000, and (b) commences detailed discussions of actual modalities (amounts, types, location, timing) with the Commission through an authorised representative.

Once decommissioning commences as set forth above, the Commission expects corresponding moves from all republican and loyalist paramilitary groups.

In accordance with the Scheme and Regulations, the Commission foresees the process of decommissioning following a reasonably predictable agenda. We therefore envision the following steps:

(1) The designation of a point of contact who can speak authoritatively for the paramilitary group; (2) Discussions with the designated point of contact regarding: a. the scheme to be used (i.e., self destruction with Commission verification, or information leading to the discovery of arms by the Commission); b. Modalities (i.e., types and amounts of arms, location of the decommissioning event, timing, etc.); (3) Agreement to proceed with a specific event or events; (4) Execution of the decommissioning event(s); (5) Destruction of any residue; and (6) Reporting to the governments.

The developments of 1 July give the basis for believing that decommissioning can be completed in the time prescribed by the Good Friday Agreement. There is still sufficient time to do that, but there is a need to get started soon. The Commission is ready and willing to start. It has emphasised its intention to conduct decommissioning in a way that is honourable, safe, verifiable, complete and free from the fear of prosecution.