An international commission says the Irish Republican Army has fully disarmed, in what could be a significant step toward reviving a stalled peace agreement.
The chief of the commission that oversaw IRA disarmament, retired Canadian General John de Chastelain made the announcement at a Belfast news conference.
"We have now reported to the British and Irish governments that we have observed and verified events to put beyond use very large quantities of arms, which we believe include all the arms in the IRA's possession," he said.
He said the arsenal included ammunition, rifles, machine guns, mortars, missiles, handguns, and explosives.
The weaponry has been made "permanently inaccessible or permanently unusable," he said.
Two clergymen, one Catholic and one Protestant, witnessed the disarmament process, which is referred to in Northern Ireland as decommissioning.
The Protestant minister, Reverend Harold Good of the Methodist Church of Ireland, confirmed they had witnessed the destruction of a large IRA arsenal.
"At the end of the process, it demonstrated to us, and it would have demonstrated to anyone who might have been with us, that beyond any shadow of doubt the arms of the IRA have now been decommissioned," he said.
Under questioning from reporters, General de Chastelain conceded the IRA could still be hiding some weapons, but he says what he saw destroyed was consistent with estimates from the British and Irish governments of what the IRA possessed.
The general said the next step for his commission is to get pro-British loyalist militias to disarm also, though he said there had been no contact with them in some time.
"I hope the loyalist paramilitary groups will agree to decommission," he said. "That can be the end of the use of the gun in Irish politics, or at least by the major groups that have been involved so far and those that are still active presumeably can be dealt with by the security forces and that people get back to politics, which is what this is all about."
In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a statement hailing the de Chastelain report as an important development in the peace process, while recalling the pain of the thousands killed and wounded in IRA violence over the past 35 years.
There was no immediate reaction from Northern Ireland's Protestant political leaders, though they have been clearly angered over the IRA's long resistance to disarmament, as called for by a 1998 peace accord.
The senior Protestant leader, Reverend Ian Paisley, had demanded photos of the IRA disarmament, but General de Chastelain says none were taken.