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Protestants dismiss IRA disarmament

Leaders refuse to cooperate with Sinn Fein

BELFAST -- Embittered leaders of Northern Ireland's Protestant majority, for decades a target of Irish Republican Army violence, said yesterday they do not believe the IRA has fully disarmed and will not cooperate with Sinn Fein for years -- if ever.

In a breakthrough that took more than a decade of grueling diplomacy, arms inspectors on Monday announced they had disposed of the IRA's entire weapons stockpile.

The move fueled hopes worldwide that the intended cornerstone of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord might soon be restored -- a joint Catholic-Protestant administration involving, to the revulsion of many Protestants, the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party.

But the Rev. Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist Party leader who during the past 36 years of conflict has opposed compromise at every turn, accused the IRA of concealing its true intentions and keeping plenty of weapons in reserve.

Asked if power-sharing with Sinn Fein would ever happen, the 79-year-old anti-Catholic evangelist replied: ''We will not be doing it."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams accused Paisley of making excuses and stalling.

''He has built a career on frightening people and on crisis," said Adams, who quipped that some Paisley supporters would still have doubts ''even if the IRA stripped naked . . . and decommissioned their weapons -- and then committed hara kiri."

Paisley met yesterday with John de Chastelain, the retired Canadian general who has led Northern Ireland's disarmament commission for the past eight years of hard-fought peacemaking.

The IRA refused to allow the general to document in public how many weapons had been ''decommissioned," or what his officials had actually done to them. De Chastelain insisted that the volume and scope of weaponry surrendered did match the most recent estimates provided by British and Irish intelligence agencies of the IRA's total supplies.

Authorities haven't released details about the estimates, however the British and Irish agencies have released information about the 130 tons of weapons shipped by Libya, the IRA's biggest arms supplier.

Those included three tons of Semtex plastic explosive, 600 detonators and 650 Kalashnikov assault rifles, as well as rocket launchers and one or more SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles. The IRA also obtained hundreds of assault rifles and handguns and more than 6,000 detonators from US sympathizers.

George Mitchell, the former American senator who oversaw the landmark 1998 deal, said the IRA's insistence on disarming in secret after years of delay had unnecessarily hardened Protestant opinion and fueled suspicion.

But he said Protestant leaders ''have to accept the reality" that the IRA did disarm.

Paisley, whose party is the largest in Northern Ireland and holds a veto over resumed power-sharing, said de Chastelain and other disarmament officials -- including a Methodist minister whose involvement as a witness was supposed to build Protestant confidence -- had been conned.

''The more the searchlight is put on this, the more we discover that there is a cover-up," said Paisley, whose party since 2003 has overpowered moderate Protestant advocates of power-sharing.

De Chastelain met delegations from several Northern Ireland parties yesterday.

Britain said it expects negotiations involving Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists to resume next year, but would require experts to make positive reports on IRA criminal activity.

The four-man Independent Monitoring Commission, formed two years ago by the British and Irish governments to assess paramilitary activity, will publish reports on IRA activities in October and January.

''January will be a key moment," said Peter Hain, the British minister responsible for Northern Ireland. ''If a clean bill of health is given, then I don't think there's going to be any excuse not to begin the political negotiations."

Traditionally, the IRA has operated some of Ireland's most sophisticated criminal enterprises.

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