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Britain Considers Next Move to Save N. Ireland Peace Process - 2001-08-09

Britain is considering its next move to try to save the peace process in Northern Ireland. The main obstacle remains the disarmament of the Irish Republican Army.

The IRA again promised to lay down its weapons just days before Britain must make a crucial decision on Northern Ireland's political future.

The IRA issued a statement Thursday confirming its pledge to an international disarmament commission that it will put its weapons completely and verifiably beyond use.

But again, the IRA refused to give a timetable for disarmament, a key demand of Northern Ireland's unionist politicians.

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, says he wants action and not words from the IRA. He says the Irish republicans bear the responsibility to save the peace process. "Even at this late stage, republicans can still save the process and save the assembly by acting," he said. "But if they don't act, then it is they who have put the institutions at risk. If the republicans don't act, it is they through their failure to keep their promises that have brought about this crisis."

The IRA and its political allies in the Sinn Fein party reject such criticism, saying Mr. Trimble and his unionists are missing a historic opportunity to end 30 years of violence.

Political crisis has gripped Northern Ireland since July 1, when Mr. Trimble resigned as senior minister because the IRA had not disarmed.

Britain has until midnight Saturday to announce how it will deal with the crisis. Options include new elections or resumption of direct rule from London.

However, most experts predict Britain will briefly suspend Northern Ireland's assembly, a maneuver that would give the parties six more weeks to work out their differences.