The IRA said in a statement it had "authorised a further act of putting arms beyond use".

Released from Belfast, the IRA statement, did not reveal the quantity of weapons or explosives involved in the initiative, the group's third step towards disarmament since 2001.

However the IRA leadership did confirm it had reopened talks with the head of the international commission on disarmament in Northern Ireland, General John de Chastelain.

"In line with our stated position, we have authorised our representative to meet with the IICD (the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning) with a view to proceeding with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity," the statement said.

IRA weapons

That reference was seen by some observers as referring to all IRA weapons, not just those involved in its third disarmament move.

A Republican source told AFP the move to disarm had already been made. However, the catholic paramilitary group did not explicitly say it was ending all armed struggle.

"Sinn Fein wants to see all guns taken out of Irish society"

Gerry Adams
leader of Sinn Fein

But it endorsed an earlier statement by the head of the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, who said that the landmark 1998 Good Friday peace deal, once fully implemented, would end Northern Ireland's three-decade paramilitary conflict.

"Sinn Fein wants to see all guns taken out of Irish society," party leader Gerry Adams told a press conference in Belfast, in what was seen as part of a carefully choreographed sequence of events to revive Northern Ireland's stalled peace process.

The IRA statement said: "The leadership of the IRA welcomes today's speech by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, in which he accurately reflects our position.

Disarming

"He also referred to the issue of weapons. The IRA leadership is committed to resolving this issue."

The statement was issued under the IRA's traditional signature of "P O'Neill". De Chastelain was due later on Tuesday to produce a report on whether the IRA had made any new move towards disarming.

Earlier on Tuesday, Britain announced an election would be held in Northern Ireland on November 26 to revive the province's power-sharing assembly. The announcement came a day after the province's Catholic and Protestant political leaders struck a deal to restart the stalled peace process.