The Irish Republican Army refused Thursday to disarm as part of Northern Ireland's proposed peace accord - but cleared the way for its allied Sinn Fein party to accept the agreement.
In a statement, the IRA reaffirmed its willingness to abide by its July 1997 cease-fire. But the outlawed group dismissed the section of the April 10 peace accord that requires Northern Ireland's rival paramilitary groups to "decommission" weaponry, starting in June and finishing within two years."Let us make it clear there will be no decommissioning by the IRA," the seven-member command said in the IRA-Sinn Fein movement's weekly newspaper, Republican News.
In London, the government said "people can't pick and choose."
"If these arrangements are going to work, then everyone involved will have to give up violence for good, and decommissioning is an essential part of the package," added Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam.
Pro-British Protestant leaders, united in anger, said the IRA and Sinn Fein are trying to have the benefits of peace without the obligations.
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, head of the biggest Protestant party, said Sinn Fein was ineligible to participate in the new Belfast administration until the IRA started disarming.
"Sinn Fein and the IRA are one and the same," said Trimble, who accepts the accord even though it has split his party. "You cannot say that there's a peace agreement if some party has a private army armed to the teeth ready for action."