Sinn Fein in new threat to boycott talks

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The Independent Online
MO MOWLAM, the Northern Ireland Secretary, will deliver her verdict on the state of the IRA ceasefire within the next six days, officials confirmed last night.

Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, yesterday warned that if, as expected, she finds there has been a breach in the IRA ceasefire, halting the release of paramilitary prisoners could lead to a Sinn Fein boycott of Senator George Mitchell's review of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement next month.

But Ms Mowlam was also warned by the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, that if she fails to act she would find herself in "grave difficulties". "She cannot end up in a situation where she is effectively saying, `I am giving the IRA licence to murder', because that is what she would be doing if she does nothing," the Northern Ireland First Minister said. "The public will not stand for it."

In a separate development yesterday the Northern Ireland Parades Commission banned a loyalist marching order from staging a parade through the nationalist lower Ormeau Road this week.

The commission ruled 100 members of the Royal Black Preceptory and a band will not be allowed to march through the area on Saturday because of fears about the potential for violence if it is allowed to pass.

The lower Ormeau Road was the scene of scuffles between police and nationalists last week as the RUC tried to move a sit-down protest off the road ahead of an Apprentice Boys march through the area.

Yesterday, Mr Trimble claimed the killing of Charles Bennett, a Belfast taxi-driver, and the discovery of an arms smuggling ring in the United States justified his party's refusal to nominate ministers to a Northern Ireland executive.

Ms Mowlam has consulted the Royal Ulster Constabulary Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, and the Army's commander in Northern Ireland, Lieutenant General Sir Hew Pike. She is also seeking information from security sources in the United States and the Irish Republic about the arms smuggling ring discovered in Florida.

Both incidents called into question whether the republican movement was committed to ending paramilitarism, Mr Trimble said. "If that's the case, then obviously there are things the Government has to do and that's not just a wee slap on the wrist. They should reassess their whole approach to them."

Mr Trimble also warned Chris Patten's Commission on Policing, which is expected to publish its findings next month, that if the RUC is forced to change its name, it would be a serious blow to the Unionist community.

David McKittrick

Review, page 4

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