Northern Ireland's main paramilitary groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Red Hand Commandos (RHC) have announced that they are disarming.
The decommissionning is seen as a milestone toward peace following decades of unrest and attacks on the province's Catholic minority, the Sydney Morning Herald quoted an AFP report saying.
The groups have reportedly killed around 1,000 people between them during several decades of unrest.
"The dark days are now behind us and it is time to move on," the UDA said in a statement. "There is no place for guns and violence in the new society we are building. It is time to work for a better future."
As part of moves overseen by an official commission, the UVF and RHC said they had destroyed their entire arsenals, while the UDA has got rid of some of its arms and has started the process of total decommissioning.
The steps were welcomed by political leaders in Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland. Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward said it was a "historic day". He added that loyalists groups have been given an ultimatum, saying they must show "meaningful progress" on decommissioning by August.
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso hailed the announcement as a "further important step, underpinning the remarkable political progress which has been achieved in recent years.
"The steps which have been announced today will assist in advancing the transformation sought by all the people of Northern Ireland," he added.
A 1998 peace accord ended most of the violence which had plagued Northern Ireland for three decades.
The Irish Republican Army (IRA), the main republican paramilitary group, finished destroying its arsenal four years ago, overseen by the commission.
Loyalist paramilitaries give up arms in N Ireland (Sydney Morning Herald)
'Historic day' as loyalist groups finally lay down their arms (The Guardian, UK)
N. Ireland's Ulster Volunteer Force says disarmed (The Associated Press)
Ulster Volunteer Force (Wikipedia)
Ulster Defence Association (Wikipedia)
Red Hand Commandos (Wikipedia)