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Northern Ireland Leader Quits Amid Arms Fight

BY Admin  July 2, 2001 at 12:10 PM EST

he IRA had promised in May 2000 to put its weapons “beyond use,” but a disarmament commission reported today the outlaw guerrilla group hasn’t yet begun to reduce its stockpile.

The commission, headed by retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, said in a report IRA officials continued to meet with them, but the talks haven’t led to any concrete action.

According to De Chastelain, an IRA representative said last week the group will honor its disarmament pledge eventually.

“We have, however, been unable to ascertain how the IRA will put its arms beyond use, except for the assurance that it will be complete and verifiable,” he wrote.

De Chastelain said similar talks with the Ulster Defense Association and and Ulster Volunteer Force — outlaw groups based in Protestant neighborhoods — also met with no concrete outcome.

Trimble set a July 1 deadline for IRA disarmament two months ago and said he’d leave his post if the group didn’t comply.

He said Sunday he would remain head of the pro-British Ulster Unionist Party and had appointed the economy minister, Sir Reg Empey, to act in his place in the coalition government.

But many see Trimble’s departure as a blow to the power-sharing administration, set up among Northern Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant factions after the 1998 Good Friday peace accord.

The battle over the IRA’s weapons has also driven a wedge between the Ulster Unionists and fellow coalition member Sinn Fein, widely regarded as the IRA’s political arm.

Seamus Mallon of the moderate republican Social Democratic and Labour Party admonished the IRA for their refusal to disarm and Sinn Fein for defending the group.

“I have heard all kinds of excuses, spurious reasons, almost unlimited,” he told The New York Times. Disarmament, he said, “is required by the Irish people.”

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams rebuffed charges the IRA diarmament question was behind the growing tension between coalition factions. He accused Trimble of “kamikaze politics” and placed the blame for the IRA’s hesitance to disarm on a strong British military presence in the region.

The British and Irish governments said they would begin talks with Northern Ireland’s leaders to keep the coalition government from collapsing.

Northern Ireland’s legislature has until Aug. 12 to elect Trimble’s replacement or be dissolved — unless the British government reasserts direct control before then.