LONDON — Northern Ireland achieved another important milestone in peacemaking Saturday as the territory's two major Protestant paramilitary groups announced their first acts of disarmament -- and pledged that their decades of slaughtering Catholic civilians were over for good.
One group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, said it had destroyed its entire stockpile of weaponry June 12 during a secret meeting with disarmament chiefs. The other, the Ulster Defense Association, said it had handed over the first part of its arsenal and would continue doing so.
"The struggle has ended. Peace and democracy have been secured, and the need for armed resistance has gone," said the written statement from Ulster Defense Association commanders. "Consequently we are putting our arsenal of weaponry permanently beyond use."
And the Ulster Volunteers, in a statement an unmasked member read at a Belfast news conference, said they have finished "rendering ordnance totally, and irreversibly, beyond use. ... For God and Ulster."
Together, the two underground groups killed nearly 1,000 people in a self-declared war against the support base of the Irish Republican Army. Unable to pinpoint IRA members living within minority Catholic areas, they opted to terrorize the whole Catholic community with machine-gun and bomb attacks on Catholic social venues that targeted young and old alike. They also killed Catholics who strayed into Protestant areas or moved into Protestant districts -- sometimes torturing them first to elicit bogus confessions of IRA membership.
Northern Ireland's soft-spoken disarmament chief, retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, was in his homeland Saturday and declined to comment. But the British and Irish governments, which since 1997 have charged de Chastelain with securing the disarmament of several Northern Ireland groups, lauded the latest achievement of his often-thankless diplomacy.