IRA reopens talks with disarmament chief after hiatus


Thu, Dec 09, 2004 - Page 6

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has reopened negotiations with Northern Ireland's disarmament chief, the outlawed group confirmed on Tuesday night in a brief statement.

The IRA moved hours after Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party, said the IRA was willing to resume disarming after a 13-month hiatus -- but would not accept conditions designed to inflict public humiliation on the secretive organization.

In its one-line statement, the IRA offered no hint as to whether it intends to disarm fully and disband in support of Northern Ireland's six-year-old peace accord, as the governments of the UK and Ireland expect.

"The IRA leadership confirms that our representative has been in contact with and has met" the independent disarmament chief, retired Canadian general John de Chastelain, the group said.

The British and Irish prime ministers, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, were to travel to Belfast yesterday to unveil a joint peace package that has taken more than a year of negotiations to produce.

But a major dispute remained firmly in place on Tuesday -- whether the IRA would allow disarmament officials to photograph the destruction of the group's remaining weapons stockpiles.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which represents most of Northern Ireland's British Protestant majority, is demanding this as a condition for forming a new administration alongside its old enemies in Sinn Fein.

Adams, a reputed IRA commander since the mid-1970s, appeared to rule this out.

"I recognize that some unionists have genuine concerns about verification of `arms beyond use,'" Adams said, using the deliberately ambiguous term used by the IRA to describe what disarmament officials are allowed to do with IRA weapons.

"But [Democratic Unionist leader] Ian Paisley has to recognize also that the IRA will not, as I said before, submit to a process of humiliation," Adams said.

The Democratic Unionists immediately accused Adams of seeking to pick the bits of the Anglo-Irish package he liked while ignoring others, such as photographed "proof" of IRA disarmament.

The governments' plans, presented confidentially to both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists on Nov. 17, reportedly include a call on the IRA to allow photos of disarmament to be used to boost Protestant support for power-sharing.