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IRA Withdraws Offer to Disarm - 2001-08-14

Peace efforts in Northern Ireland have suffered a major setback with the announcement that the Irish Republican Army is withdrawing a disarmament offer.

The IRA has pulled its disarmament proposal off the negotiating table. The guerrilla group issued a statement Tuesday saying it has taken the move because of what it calls the "outright rejection" of the offer by British and Ulster unionist politicians.

The IRA says the decision to propose disarmament had been difficult and had caused problems within its ranks. It says the IRA leadership will continue to monitor developments, adding that "peacekeeping is a collective effort."

The announcement comes just five days after the IRA confirmed an agreement with an international disarmament commission to put its weapons "completely and verifiably" beyond use.

Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid, says he is deeply disappointed. "I'm afraid that withdrawing from an agreement which took two years to arrive at, only five days after republicans declared it as historic," Mr. Reid said, "can only play into the hands of those skeptics who have always doubted their intentions."

A leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Michael McGimpsey, says the IRA was never sincere. "I think it's important to say that this could not have been a serious offer, that this is a peace now of tactical maneuvering," Mr. McGimpsey said.

However, the political wing of the IRA, the Sinn Fein party, says Britain should pressure the unionists to save the peace process. Mitchel McLaughlin is the Sinn Fein chairman said, "The British government's response to the refusal of the unionists to work for the political institutions," he said, "is an example of political failure and it is no way to develop a peace process."

The future of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government has been in doubt since July 1, when Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble resigned as senior minister in protest over the IRA's refusal to disarm.

Britain briefly suspended the provincial government late last week. It used a legal loophole that gives the parties six more weeks to try to settle their differences.

If that fails, Britain may have to call new elections or resume direct rule from London.

Adding further concern for the peace process is the announcement that police in Colombia have arrested three IRA suspects.

Details remain sketchy, but initial reports indicate the men were giving training in weapons and explosives to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist guerrilla group.

Unionist leaders say the arrests confirm their suspicions that the IRA remains actively involved with international terrorism.