23, 2001, 5:15pm EDT
"Our motivation is clear," the IRA said in a statement. "This
There was no immediate word on the number of weapons being put out of use or the method.
The IRA said it would implement a plan accepted by an international disarmament commission in August, the details of which were never made public.
Late Tuesday, the commission confirmed the IRA had begun decommissioning its weapons.
"We have now witnessed an event, which we regard as significant, in which the IRA has put a quantity of arms completely beyond use," the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning said in a report to the British and Irish governments. "The material in question includes arms, ammunition and explosives."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the IRA decision a "very significant milestone" in the peace process.
"We have worked for this moment," Blair told reporters. "This is a move of fundamental significance for Northern Ireland, for relations between the communities in Northern Ireland, for Britain and also for the wider world."
Decommissioning, a move required under the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, had been a major sticking point in the establishment of a self-ruling Northern Ireland government.
The Ulster Unionist Party, the biggest pro-British, largely Protestant party, has twice agreed to join a government including the IRA-linked Sinn Féin, on condition that IRA disarmament followed.
Ulster Unionist leader and Northern Assembly head David Trimble brought the decommissioning issue to a head by quitting the assembly this summer, citing the IRA's unwillingness to disarm.
Trimble, saying he understood that a substantial quantity of IRA weapons had been destroyed, called a special party meeting for this weekend where he will propose rejoining the Northern Ireland Assembly.
"I am going to go with a recommendation that the party approve our action in reconstituting the Northern Ireland Executive," he told reporters. "If that [recommendation] is approved, then we can look forward to the necessary steps so that a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister can be elected next week."
Earlier, Catholic and pro-Irish parties had called on the unionists to respond.
"I would like to see now a very positive response coming from David Trimble and the Ulster Unionists in order to ensure our institutions are back fully in place and that we are down to the real task for the future, which is working together for our common interests," David Hume, leader of the largest moderate republican party and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Trimble, said.
Paramilitary groups that have battled the IRA for decades said they would not begin handing over arms. They said many members of the IRA may simply join splinter groups that have vowed to continue fighting.
"We are prepared for anything, but Sinn Féin won't decide when we are going to decommission," a senior member of the Ulster Defence Association told the Irish Times. "The Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Freedom Fighters will decide."