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Election Date Set for N. Ireland

IRA destroys its largest cache of arms yet, but Ulster Unionists say power-sharing won't resume if disarmament details aren't revealed.

October 22, 2003|From Times Wire Services

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Britain and Ireland announced an election date Tuesday for this British territory's empty Catholic-Protestant legislature, and the Irish Republican Army said it had destroyed a larger cache of its weapons than ever before.

But Ulster Unionist chief David Trimble said his British Protestant party would not resume its part in a power-sharing government as long as the IRA keeps details of its disarmament secret.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern, who came to Northern Ireland to launch a Nov. 26 election for the legislature, found themselves doing damage control.

"We are not going to reach agreement tonight, which is a great disappointment to us," a frustrated Blair told reporters at Hillsborough Castle, south of Belfast.

Blair said the election would proceed.

The prime ministers' mission was supposed to have been bolstered by the IRA's disarmament move.

John de Chastelain, a retired Canadian general trying to coax the IRA and other outlawed groups to disarm, confirmed that the IRA had allowed him to inventory and "decommission" automatic rifles, explosives and other weapons Tuesday. He said the amount of weaponry was "considerably larger" than those taken away previously.

But Trimble said, "We had made it very clear to the [British and Irish] governments and Gen. de Chastelain that what we needed was a transparent report of major acts of decommissioning."

He said, however, that he would meet again today with Sinn Fein, the Catholic IRA's political party.

De Chastelain said the IRA wouldn't allow him to specify the volume or type of weapons discarded, nor the method of disposal.

As a result, Trimble backed away from his intention to declare that the Ulster Unionists wanted to resume power-sharing with Sinn Fein. Such a declaration was to have been the last step in a string of choreographed statements and events Tuesday.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams called Trimble's decision "deeply disappointing" but defended the IRA's determination to keep its hand-over of weaponry secret -- which is seen as a face-saving measure.

Power-sharing in the province collapsed in October 2002 after police uncovered evidence that Sinn Fein's top legislative aide was involved in an IRA operation to gather intelligence on potential targets. The episode raised Protestant fears that the IRA might abandon its 1997 cease-fire.

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