|Northern Ireland's peace process took a significant step forward Monday with the announcement the Irish Republican Army has completely disarmed. VOA's Jim Bertel reports this breakthrough is seen as a key step towards ending the decades old armed struggle.|
After years of negotiation and struggle, peace may finally be near in Northern Ireland. General John De Chastelain, head of the arms decommissioning body said, "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."
Retired Canadian General de Chastelain heads the international commission that oversaw the disarmament of the Irish Republican Army. He said the arsenal included ammunition, rifles, missiles and explosives.
Many analysts say this move by the I.R.A. could help restart the peace process aimed at ending three decades of violence between the largely Roman Catholic I.R.A and mostly Protestant loyalists who want Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed Monday's announcement. "This is the moment we've been waiting for a very long time and it's taken years of patience, perseverance and often disappointment. But we've tried to carry on with unquenchable optimism that Northern Ireland can have a different and better future and this is a very important moment."
Gerry Adams, the leader of the I.R.A's political wing Sinn Fein, praised the disarmament as bold and brave.
But Ian Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, which has resisted dealing with the I.R.A.'s political allies, was skeptical. "There were no photographs, no detailed inventory and no detail of the destruction of these arms. To describe today's act as being transparent would be the falsehood of the century," said Mr. Paisley.
The U.S. State Department welcomed Monday's announcement calling the I.R.A's action a significant step toward a sustainable peace in Northern Ireland.