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More Paramilitary Groups Disarm in Northern Ireland

Two splinter paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland have given up their weapons to an international commission monitoring what is known as 'decommissioning.' The two groups have for decades been waging an armed campaign against British sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

The two armed groups handing over their weapons February 8 are the Irish National Liberation Army - or INLA - and the Official Irish Republican Army - or OIRA. Both groups were active during the so-called "Troubles" - a euphemism referring to the violent civil and political unrest in Northern Ireland that claimed more than 3,700 lives in more than three decades.

Darwin Templeton is editor of the Belfast Newsletter - a daily with close ties to the pro-British, Protestant community. He says the INLA was established in the mid-1970s.

"The INLA had broken away from the Official IRA. And the INLA was a rather small republican splinter group, but it had been involved in something like 120, 130 killings during 'The Troubles' including the assassination of a very high-ranking British Minister [Airey Neave in 1979]. Although they were quite a small group, they were a very, very deadly group and they certainly were not a group that anybody could take for granted," Templeton said.

Analysts believe the INLA has currently about a couple of dozen active members.

As for the Official IRA, it was established because of another split in the republican movement. Noel Doran is the editor of Belfast's "Irish News" - a newspaper reflecting the views of the Catholic, nationalist community that favors union with Ireland.

"There was a split: the Official IRA went in one direction and the Provisional IRA, which became the mainstream IRA in the late 1960s, went in a different direction," explained Duran. "The Official IRA called a ceasefire back in the early 1970s and concentrated on a political approach which would be regarded as a Marxist group, but very small, really on the fringes of the political sector here. It had retained its weaponry, had retained some sort of a [paramilitary] structure, but for all intents and purposes was dormant in many respects. And it also has taken the decision to handover its weaponry and it has also effectively left the stage," he said.

The most well-known paramilitary group - the Irish Republican Army - gave up its weapons in 2005. The main pro-British armed groups did so as well - but much later: the Ulster Volunteer Force in (June) 2009 and the Ulster Defense Association earlier this year (January).

Noel Doran says the INLA and the Official IRA handed over their weapons to the special international decommissioning body - created 13 years ago - hours before its mandate expired.

"That deadline was significant because if decommissioning [giving up weapons] by particular groups was not completed, any provisions that they would have enjoyed, any exemptions from prosecution which were there to allow the decommissioning process to take place, would have expired," he said. "And that would have meant that anyone who was subsequently caught with weapons would have faced the full weight of the law and faced being imprisoned for having any connections to those weapons. As things stand, if those weapons are handed over to authorities, no one will be prosecuted, the weapons will be destroyed and that process comes to a conclusion," Duran said.

Analysts say there are still several small paramilitary splinter groups - such as the Continuity IRA - that have not given up their weapons.

"Groups that basically don't agree with the peace process and have broken away from the provisional IRA," said Darwin Templeton. "Obviously they haven't decommissioned because they don't support the peace process and therefore don't support any talk of decommissioning or laying down weapons. They basically are still committed to what they call 'the armed struggle' and they are continuing their campaign," Templeton said.

Templeton and Doran say despite the political progress made in Northern Ireland over the years, those small armed organizations still cast a shadow over the British province.