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Panel says IRA has taken key steps toward nonviolent politics

Door opens to N. Ireland deal

DUBLIN, Ireland -- The Irish Republican Army has disbanded units for weapons making, arms smuggling, recruiting, and training, an expert panel reported yesterday in dramatic findings that could boost chances for reviving a Catholic-Protestant administration in Northern Ireland.

The leaders of Britain and Ireland warmly embraced the conclusions of the Independent Monitoring Commission, a panel that includes former chiefs of the Central Intelligence Agency and Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch.

In its 60-page report, the panel listed statistics and trends demonstrating the IRA has embraced nonviolent politics and is determined to consign its terrorist capability to history.

``The IRA has done what we asked it to do," British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared at his Downing Street office in London. He said ``the door is now open for a final settlement."

Unusually, hard-line Protestant leader Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland also welcomed the report for what he called signs that the IRA ``is progressively abandoning its terrorist structures."

But he emphasized his Democratic Unionist Party would not share power until Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party that represents most Catholics in the British territory, accepts the authority of Northern Ireland's police force, the last major obstacle in a 13-year-old peace process.

The commission said IRA commanders had sanctioned no killings over the previous 12 months, were cracking down on members involved in criminal rackets, and had cut off members' financial stipends as it trims its rank and file.

Crucially, the experts said, the IRA shut down three departments that for decades oversaw the recruitment and training of members, arms smuggling from overseas, and construction of bombs and other weapons.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the IRA's actions removed any excuse for the Democratic Unionists not to form a power-sharing Cabinet alongside their longtime enemies. ``We could do a deal tonight. We could do it tomorrow. It's all up to Ian Paisley," he said.

Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said they were optimistic of achieving progress in a negotiating summit Oct. 11-13 in Scotland, where they hope to get Paisley and Adams into face-to-face negotiations for the first time.

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