N. Ireland groups say they’ll disarm by Feb.

By Associated Press
September 9, 2009

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LONDON - The British government said yesterday that the last remaining armed paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland had pledged to decommission all their weapons within six months.

Northern Ireland police said separately that the army had defused a massive bomb, containing around 600 pounds of homemade explosives in the village of Forkhill, close to the South Armagh border with Ireland.

Shaun Woodward, Northern Ireland secretary, said the Ulster Defense Association and its breakaway unit in South East Antrim both pledged to give up their arms by February 2010, just before the end of a long-running amnesty that allows paramilitary groups to give up their weapons without being prosecuted.

Two other paramilitary groups, the Ulster Volunteer Forces and the Red Hand Commando, handed over their guns, ammunition, and explosives in June.

The process was overseen by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, which was set up in 1997 as part of Northern Ireland’s peace deal.

The UDA, the major outlawed Protestant group in Northern Ireland, is largely observing a 1994 cease-fire in support of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord but remains a menacing criminal presence in Protestant areas.

Dominic Bradley, a Social Democratic and Labour Party lawmaker, blamed republican dissidents for the defused bomb.

“This is the most serious threat yet from dissident republicans to the people of South Armagh,’’ he said. “Without doubt there could have been civilian casualties and deaths caused by a bomb of this size.’’

Police said they had launched an investigation.