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Decommissioning down to the wire as groups give up guns

By Brian Rowan

It's D-day for arms decommissioning — with the final deadline midnight tonight.

General John de Chastelain and his team were in Belfast yesterday and issued confirmation statements on decommissioning by the INLA and the Official IRA.

Later it emerged the breakaway UDA brigade in south-east Antrim had completed the process of putting its arms beyond use.

These groups join the IRA, UVF, UDA, Red Hand Commando and the Loyalist Volunteer Force — all of which have disarmed and confirmed that their wars are over.

And today is the last day the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) can operate in Northern Ireland — the last day that paramilitaries can get rid of weapons without forensic testing.

There has been no move from dissident republican groups and none is expected.

The commission’s work will continue in the Republic until February 25, and the IICD will then produce a report for the British and Irish governments.

The decommissioning body was established in 1997 and the first decommissioning was by the LVF in December the following year.

Yesterday, with the final deadline approaching, a statement from the INLA confirmed its war was over and it had disarmed.

Willie Gallagher of the linked Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) said the decommissioning had included “every single weapon, north and south”.

“Every single bit of explosives and ammunition has been handed over,” he claimed.

In the first of two statements released yesterday, the IICD said it had “conducted events in which quantities of firearms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices belonging to the INLA have been decommissioned”.

The statement continued: “The events were attended by witnesses chosen by the INLA. The INLA representatives have informed us that the arms decommissioned constitute all those under the control of the INLA leadership.”

“The INLA have been collecting (arms) over a period of a number of months, both north and south, and have been putting them into a single location,” Willie Gallagher told this newspaper.

“Initially there was a train of thought within the INLA that the weapons should be disposed of by the INLA itself,” he continued.

“During in-depth consultations internally and externally it was decided that no-one would believe us if we used that method,” he added.

So, in what one source called “conveyor belt type” decommissioning, the INLA involved a “joint facilitation group” and they transferred the weapons to the IICD.

“I think that would be a reasonable description,” Conal McFeely of the facilitation group said.

“The fact is that the INLA did not hand their weapons over to the General John de Chastelain,” he continued. “That was done by the facilitation group.”

Mr McFeely, development executive at Creggan Enterprises, Brendan Mackin of the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, Peter Bunting of the ICTU and Dr Ram Manikkalingam, from an Amsterdam-based conflict resolution group, were witnesses as the weapons were destroyed.

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