Fewer troops on streets of Ulster

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The Independent Online
The first bonus from the IRA ceasefire came yesterday with an announcement that the security forces are to reduce the level of troops on the streets across the Province in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Routine military patrolling in Belfast city centre and adjacent areas and in South Antrim is to be scaled down as part of the Government's attempts to return Northern Ireland to normal levels of security as quickly as possible. The use of military vehicles including armoured cars, or "pigs", is being reduced, and physical security measures will be relaxed.

Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said the decision to scale down the security measures was taken by the Chief Constable "purely on operational grounds" and could be reversed quickly if necessary.

Ms Mowlam has offered to meet Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, next week in the first meeting between ministers and the republican party leadership since the IRA ceasefire.

Northern Ireland officials yesterday cleared the way for the meeting after a two-hour discussion with Sinn Fein delegates at Stormont's Castle Buildings in Belfast, Pat Doherty, the party vice-president, said.

Officials have given Sinn Fein some dates for next week's planned meeting. The agenda is expected to include the issue of decommissioning, which has prompted two of the three Unionist parties to walk out of the talks. An independent commission to oversee decommissioning of terrorist weapons is due to be named shortly.

Downing Street disclosed that the Prime Minister and the American President had a 25-minute conversation on the telephone, in which Bill Clinton gave his backing to the strategy being followed by Tony Blair for bringing the parties to the talks.

The Prime Minister's office said Mr Blair briefed the President on Sunday night about the Government's efforts to bring about the all-party talks after the IRA ceasefire. It is believed this included Mr Blair's assessment of the chances of getting the Ulster Unionists to sit down with Sinn Fein in September for the first time. "The President gave his full support to what we are trying to do," a government source said.

The substantive talks are not due to be held until 15 September, and the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble is consulting the community about whether his party should sit down with Sinn Fein leaders before all the IRA weapons have been handed over.

At yesterday's Stormont meeting Sinn Fein officials sought reassurances that substantive negotiations would go ahead with or without Unionists on 15 September.

The small UK Unionist Party yesterday declared the talks dead and said it was trying to set up another process in consultation with the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, which has also pulled out.

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