London (CNSNews.com) - Hours before a deadline set by the British and Irish governments for Northern Ireland political parties to accept proposals to break a deadlock in the peace proposals, the mainstream republican paramilitary group Monday put forward proposals to disarm.
The news came from an international body set up under the peace accord to oversee disarmament. It said its discussions with the IRA led it to believe that the proposal "initiates a process that will put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use."
No details were given about exactly what the terrorists would do with the weapons.
The IRA's consistent failure to meet its obligations to destroy or surrender its arms caches has been blamed by pro-British unionists for the near-collapse of the process.
Unionist leader David Trimble resigned as Northern Ireland's first minister on July 1 over the issue, beginning a six-week countdown that - failing resolution - will end on August 12 with the dissolution of a Protestant-Catholic power-sharing assembly.
London and Dublin last week put forward a series of proposals to salvage the process, and gave the main parties until midnight Monday to accept them.
The British and Irish governments Monday welcomed the announcement, as did Gerry Adams, president of the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein.
"Once again the IRA has demonstrated its commitment to the search for a lasting peace," Adams said. "The other parties need to match that commitment and should respond positively and constructively."
Republicans see the weapons issue as a pretest used by unionists and Britain to delay moving ahead in other areas of the Good Friday agreement, particularly the reduction of British forces in the province, and transformation of its mostly Protestant police force.
Trimble's party is meeting later tonight to consider the two governments' proposals. He did not have any immediate response to the commission's announcement about the IRA.
But Jeffrey Donaldson, a senior unionist colleague who has criticized Trimble for being too soft in negotiations, reacted cautiously.
"The significance is not so much in what is said here, but whether the IRA will now follow through and decommission their illegal weapons ... after three years of delay," he said.
"With the deadline fast approaching, we need to see the IRA moving to decommission their weapons, which means those weapons must be rendered permanently unusable and permanently unavailable."
The 1998 Good Friday agreement, brokered with the help of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, aimed to put an end to a 30-year sectarian conflict that cost some 3,600 lives.