The Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced on Thursday that it will abandon its "armed campaign" and resume disarmament in a long-awaited declaration designed to revive the Northern Irish peace process.
The IRA, which has observed a cease-fire since 1997, said it would end all armed activity from 1600 BST Thursday. But it said that it would not - despite Unionist demands - formally disband.
In an historic statement, the Provisionals appealed to the Britain and Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority to accept the IRA's new position as sufficient to renew negotiations on power-sharing, the core goal of the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
The statement begins: "The leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign. This will take effect from 4pm on Thursday afternoon," report The Times.
According to BBC news, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, said the statement "will challenge Irish republicans and nationalists."
He appealed to "everyone to carefully read what the Army has to say and to remain united and steadfast."
"The IRA statement will also challenge others, especially the two governments and the Unionists," he said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the IRA's announcement ending its armed campaign as a step of "unparalleled magnitude" and said the disposal of IRA weapons must take place as soon as possible, reports the AP.
"This may be the day when finally, after all the false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland," said Blair in a live televised statement at his Downing Street office.
"I welcome the statement of the IRA that ends its campaign; I welcome its clarity; I welcome the recognition that the only route to political change lies in exclusively peaceful and democratic means," he added. "This is a step of unparalleled magnitude in the recent history of Northern Ireland."
Key commitments in IRA statement
WAR OVER: The IRA "formally ordered an end to the armed campaign." DISARMAMENT: "All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms.” CRIMINALITY: The IRA has commanded its members that they "must not engage in any other activities whatsoever." DISBANDMENT: The statement indicated that the IRA would continue to exist, but its members should become full-time activists in Sinn Fein, the political party that has grown to represent most Catholics in Northern Ireland today.
The General Staff noted that the document appeared at a time when Russia was trying to deter the arms race unleashed by the United States