Belfast militants disarm
Belfast - A major Northern Irish paramilitary organisation has dumped all its weapons in front of independent witnesses, completing the disarming of main militant groups but still leaving dangerous dissident factions active.
The Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a 'loyalist' group which wants Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, declared last June that its armed struggle was over and on Wednesday said it had got rid of all its weapons.
"We have now conducted a major act of decommissioning in which arms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices belonging to the Ulster Defence Association have been destroyed within the terms of our mandate," said the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.
"The leadership of the Ulster Defence Association has informed us that these armaments constitute the totality of those under their control."
The statement confirmed comments on Tuesday from a group close to the paramilitaries which said the UDA's announcement was imminent.
Another group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, the most lethal pro-British militant organisation, said in June it had disposed of all its weapons.
More than 3 600 people were killed in violence between the late 1960s and the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that led to a power-sharing executive run jointly by former foes.
Ireland's Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said the latest move marked an important step in the peace process.
"This is a statement of confidence in the political process and in the devolved institutions. Another obstacle to dialogue and partnership has been removed," Martin said in a statement.
Efforts to consolidate peace have been challenged by attacks against police by dissident Republican splinter groups which do not recognise the Irish Republican Army's (IRA) ceasefire.
Last March the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA killed two British soldiers and a policeman.
There also have been signs that cooperation in the executive between Sinn Fein, the political ally of the IRA, and the Democratic Unionist Party could be breaking down due to a dispute over when to take over policing and justice powers from London.