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armed campaign.

In a statement, the Provisionals confirmed the armed struggle would end from 4pm today and that all IRA units have been ordered to dump arms.

The organisation also confirmed that it had instructed its representative to complete its disarmament process in a way that would enhance public confidence and to do this as quickly as possible.

Two independent witnesses from the Protestant and Catholic churches had been invited to testify to the weapons decommissioning move.

The IRA was responding to a call from Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in April to consider abandoning armed struggle and pursue its goals exclusively through peaceful and democratic means.

The statement said it believed that the republican objectives could now be achieved through means other than armed struggle.

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"The outcome of our consultations shows very strong support among IRA volunteers for the Sinn Fein peace strategy.

"There is also widespread concern about the failure of the two governments and the Unionists to fully engage in the peace process.

"This has created real difficulties. The overwhelming majority of people in Ireland fully support this process.

"They and friends of Irish unity throughout the world want to see the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement."

Denis Bradley, vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, said he was looking for a positive response from the Unionist community.

He said: "This is a statement which would never have been made five, 10 years ago, even last October, and people need to acknowledge that.

"Now that it has been made, the implications are very clear. It is an enormous day in the history of these islands."

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