Parliament Ulster Talks: Government may buy terrorist arms

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT'S purchase of arms from paramilitary groups is being considered as an option to "oil" the decommissioning process, Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said yesterday.

Her disclosure came asDowning Street signalled that there would be "increased urgency" to reach a settlement to set up the Stormont power-sharing executive by next week.

David Trimble, the Northern Ireland First Minister, and Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, are under increasing pressure to agree a compromise on Unionist demands for decommissioning to start before Sinn Fein takes seats on the power-sharing executive.

In the Commons, Ms Mowlam said every option, including the purchase of the paramilitaries' arms, was open. Every one would be considered by the decommissioning body.

She said she planned to call a meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly next week."What I want to make sure is that parties understand that, if that operates and there is not a cross-community executive formed, if it is an executive of only one party, then you cannot devolve powers, you cannot transfer powers because it would be dysfunctional."

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, answering questions for Tony Blair whowas in Berlin, dismissed Tory calls for the halting of the early release of terrorist prisonersuntil paramilitaries had given up their weapons. The freeing of prisoners was part of the Good Friday peace agreement, he said, and it would be observed "with all the difficulties and all the feelings of disgust that may be felt at the time".

He said: "I find it difficult to accept that your intention apparently is to secure agreement when you talk in the language that you do."

The next few days were critical, said Mr Prescott, adding: "We are nearer to getting agreement than we've ever been before."