N Ireland awakes to new era of peace |
Northern Ireland woke up to the prospect of a lasting end to more than 30 years of violence after the IRA formally pledged to lay down its weapons and substitute the ballot box for the bullet.
The Irish Republican Army, which carried out shootings and bombings both in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland in its attempt to end London's rule of the territory, said it would now wage the struggle through peaceful means only.
"All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms," the Catholic paramilitary group said, a statement which, while long expected, was immediately hailed by the British, Irish and US governments as "historic".
The IRA move was welcomed around the world, with the European Union joining the chorus on Friday.
The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who was in Laos, called it a "historical event and we hope it will lead to a total finalization of that battle of the IRA."
Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern released separate and joint statements welcoming the breakthrough.
"If the IRA's words are borne out by actions, it will be a momentous and historic development," the two men said in a joint statement.
"This may be the day when finally after all the false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaces war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland," added Blair in a separate comment. "This is a step of unparalleled magnitude in the recent history of Northern Ireland."
In an interview Friday with BBC Radio, Ahern said "I do not think we are going to build trust and confidence overnight and I don't think we'll do it in a matter of weeks."
"But I do hope that over a period of months as we see, hopefully, that all of these (disarmament) issues are fulfilled, it should allow us to get back to the business of trying to implement the Good Friday Agreement and the institutions."