Arms panel meet men of peace

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The Independent Online
An international commission charged with overcoming the arms-issue obstacle to a peace process advance in Northern Ireland met two of the main peacemakers in Dublin today.

The former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds and the Belfast-based Catholic priest Father Alex Reid were among those who made submissions to the body at sessions behind closed doors in Dublin Castle.

The meetings followed 14 hours of talks with the government and political parties in Belfast on Saturday for the former US Senator George Mitchell and his team.

The panel is scheduled to see Irish cabinet ministers and a Sinn Fein delegation headed by the party's leader, Gerry Adams. Mr Reynolds and Father Reid saw the body separately for periods of up to two hours each.They were central figures in moves that led up to the IRA ceasefire in Northern Ireland last year.

In common with practice established when the commission met formally for the first time in Belfast, few details emerged from the latest exchanges. A signal of the importance attached to the arms panel came, though, from Mary Harney, chief of Ireland's Progressive Democrats opposition party, who said the Mitchell commission "held the key to unlocking the impasse". Ms Harney added: "It is essential that all parties making submissions should agree to accept its findings in full."

Last week there were signs that the British government - which is demanding IRA moves towards arms decommissioning ahead of the entry of Sinn Fein into all-party talks on Northern Ireland - regarded the international body's role as mainly advisory.

The senior Sinn Fein strategist Martin McGuinness made it clear yesterday that his party would be pressing the Mitchell panel to examine secret reports on the so-killed shoot-to-kill policy of the Northern Ireland security forces, as well as their alleged collusion with Ulster loyalist paramilitaries.

After completing their business in Dublin, the panel will consider the opinions they have heard before meeting again early in the New Year.

The Prime Minister, John Major, and his Irish counterpart, John Bruton, are due to meet in Dublin to give a pre-Christmas boost to the peace process.