Adams takes his grievances to Blair as loyalists carry on the killings

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The Independent Online
Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are to meet Tony Blair in Downing Street today against a background of continuing loyalist violence and increasing grassroots republican disillusionment. Our Ireland Correspondent examines the elements which underline the fragility of a peace process that faces problems both from within and without.

Loyalist violence yesterday produced yet another fatality with the shooting of a Catholic man in the Co Londonderry town of Maghera. In claiming responsibility for the killing the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) warned that more violence would follow.

The group has now claimed the deaths of four Catholics since vowing to exact revenge for the Irish National Liberation Army (Inla) killing of its founder-member, Billy Wright, inside the Maze prison just after Christmas. These killings have increased concerns within a nationalist community already anxious at the direction of the talks process.

The talks are due to get down to specific business in Belfast today on the basis of the document produced jointly last week by the British and Irish governments. But the document, while serving its purpose of providing an agenda for detailed negotiation, clearly did not produce equality of pain for all participants.

Rather, it pleased David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party but caused dismay within Sinn Fein, who complain that it represents a significant retreat from the 1995 framework document which they argue was supposed to be the starting point for negotiations.

One republican complained: "The Unionists are still refusing to engage with Sinn Fein. Their general demeanour has been that they were back in the driving seat, they had this document in their hip pocket and all was well."

Today's meeting at Downing Street will give the Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness an opportunity to express to Tony Blair in person the criticisms which Mr McGuinness made in a series of weekend interviews.

It will be the third republican meeting with the Prime Minister. The first meeting took place at the multi-party talks at Stormont last autumn and on 11 December republicans went to 10 Downing Street for the first time. While those were regarded as ice-breaking encounters, republicans made it clear they hoped for continuing direct access to Mr Blair.

The latest killing came to light early yesterday following an anonymous phone call. A body was found lying near a Catholic chapel next to a youth club in Upper Main Street, Maghera. The LVF, which has carried out previous killings in the general area, warned in a statement: "This is not the last - lead the way." According to security sources, the LVF has received a significant number of recruits since the Wright assassination.

While the British and Irish governments were at one in putting forward last week's document, they appear to be at odds over the question of Bloody Sunday, when paratroopers shot dead 14 people in Londonderry in 1972. Dublin is pressing hard for an apology and a new inquiry, but after months of consideration London has yet to indicate a definite response.

In the meantime, Lieutenant-Colonel Derek Wilford, who was in charge of the operation, warned that ultimate responsibility lay not with the soldiers but with their political masters of the time.

He told a Channel 4 investigation which is to be broadcast tonight: "I think the prime minister of the time should be the person who is discussing it. If people start talking about apologising then I think one has actually got to look at who was responsible for the decision to carry out that type of operation.

"What are they going to apologise for? I would have to warn them not to do so. They cannot apologise for me," he said.

Meanwhile, the former United States ambassador to London, Ray Seitz, has accused the White House of leaking British secrets to the IRA. In his memoirs Mr Seitz, who was ambassador between 1991 and 1994, also revealed the diplomatic row over whether President Bill Clinton should allow Gerry Adams to visit the US.

Relations between London and Washington became so bad, he said, that London stopped passing sensitive intelligence to the White House "because it often seemed to find its way back to the IRA".