NI arms group starts work

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The Independent Online
The first track of the twin-track approach in the Northern Ireland peace process is to be launched tomorrow when the international body on decommissioning begins work in Belfast.

The establishment of the three-man body, headed by senior American politician, George Mitchell, was announced at a recent Anglo-Irish summit by the British and Irish governments.

Its task is to prepare a report by mid-January on the question of paramilitary arms. In the meantime the second track will open shortly as the two governments hold preliminary discussions aimed at opening all-party talks by the end of February.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, is expected to outline the British government's position to Mr Mitchell and his two associates, a Canadian and a Finn, tomorrow.

There is keen interest in whether the international body will be able to find some way of reconciling the IRA's flat refusal to hand over any guns at this stage with the Government's insistence that some arms should be decommissioned before Sinn Fein can enter full talks.

The international body will be hearing from the political parties and "other relevant persons" over two days. On Sunday its members are to move on to Dublin where they will meet representatives of the Irish government and others.

In Dublin they are also expected to meet Sinn Fein. Last week the IRA put down a marker that its position had not changed by announcing: "There is no question of the IRA meeting the ludicrous demand for a surrender of IRA weapons either through the front or the back door."

Meanwhile, a busy round of political talks over the next 10 days is expected to include a number of inter-party meetings and visits to Belfast and Dublin by the Prime Minister, John Major.