BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The Irish Republican Army announced Tuesday it had withdrawn its agreement on a method for disarming, rebuffing Britain's efforts to create more negotiating time to preserve Northern Ireland's power-sharing government.
In a statement, the IRA didn't rule out the prospect of eventually scrapping some weapons. But the outlawed group emphasized that recent British and Protestant demands were "totally unacceptable."
The move -- and the arrest of three suspected IRA members in Colombia -- undermined efforts to salvage the Catholic-Protestant government at the heart of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord. Protestants said both developments showed that the IRA was not ready to renounce violence, a key principle underpinning the whole peace process.
"Withdrawing from an agreement which took two years to arrive at, only five days after republicans declared it as historic, can only play into the hands of those skeptics who have always doubted their intentions," said Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid.
Colombia announced Monday that it had arrested three suspected IRA members over the weekend, saying the men had spent five weeks in rebel-controlled territory teaching guerrillas how to use explosives. It was the first time such an alliance between the IRA and rebels in the South American country has been uncovered.
Northern Ireland's four-party coalition faced likely collapse last weekend, the apparent deadline for divided lawmakers to elect a Protestant to the government's vacated top post. But Britain intervened by taking power from local hands for 24 hours, postponing the leadership vote for six weeks, then restored power Sunday.
The IRA said the major Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, should have accepted their commitment to disarm as adequate. The Ulster Unionists' rejection, "compounded by the setting of preconditions, are totally unacceptable," the IRA said.
"The subsequent actions of the British government, including their failure to fulfill their commitments, is also totally unacceptable," the group continued. "The conditions therefore do not exist for progressing our proposition. We are withdrawing our proposal."
The IRA said Britain had acted illegally and in violation of the 1998 pact, a view supported only by the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party, junior Catholic members of the coalition.
As a result, the IRA said, its agreement announced last week with retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, chairman of an independent disarmament commission, had been withdrawn.
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