Ulster Peace Talks: Report will guide arms handover

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The Independent Online
THE DE CHASTELAIN Report on decommissioning, published yesterday afternoon after 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 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 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 [they] requested 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 it said: "...we believe 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.

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) begins detailed discussions of actual modalities (amounts, types, location, timing) with the commission through an authorised representative. Once decommissioning begins as set forth above, the commission expects corresponding moves from all republican and loyalist paramilitary groups.

The commission has emphasised its intention to conduct decommissioning in a way that is honourable, safe, verifiable, complete and free from the fear of prosecution.