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IRA announces it won't hand over weapons

The Irish Republican Army announced Thursday that it would not give up its weapons, prompting the British government to warn the group's political wing, Sinn Fein, that it could not "pick and choose" from the Northern Ireland peace accord.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "There cannot be parts that people agree with and parts they do not agree with _ and it's not just a question of decommissioning," as disarmament is called.

In Belfast, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who chaired the talks that led to the April 10 accord, said decommissioning should "begin as soon as possible and be as complete as possible." He added: "The overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland, while acknowledging their differences, want to solve those differences through democratic and exclusively peaceful means."

The IRA statement, its first on the agreement, ruled out any decommissioning. It said that while the peace accord was "a significant development" it fell short of a durable settlement.

But the IRA also commended the "success" of the Sinn Fein peace strategy and urged republicans to follow the advice of the party leadership, who are expected to recommend acceptance of the accord at a conference May 10.

Unionists reacted angrily. Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, which is campaigning against the deal, said: "The IRA is putting its thumb mark on the agreement, but they are also warning the government that if they do not get what they want, they will go back to terrorism."

David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, warned: "You can't say there is an agreement if some party has a private army, armed to the teeth."

Irish officials played down the IRA statement, which they suggested was an attempt to woo hard-liners ahead of a May 22 referendum to ratify the deal. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: "I think everyone needs to calm down. What do people expect the IRA to say?"

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