Sinn Fein's McGuinness says disarmament is possible

SINN FEIN negotiator Martin McGuinness said yesterday that he believes the disarmament of terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland is possible.

But decommissioning could take place only with full implementation of the Good Friday peace agreement - including the appointment of ministers from his party - he said. Mr McGuinness, who is Sinn Fein's go-between with the International Decommissioning body, said: "This process of removing the gun from Irish politics is going to be a very lengthy one and very problematic.

"I think it can be overcome and I think that we can, if all of us come at this in a very sensible way, deal with the very complex and sophisticated issues that are in there and they're best dealt with in the context of removing the causes of conflict."

Sinn Fein has been coming under increased pressure to deliver some hand- over of IRA weapons, with the Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble insisting that the Province's new ruling Executive cannot be formed without decommissioning. But Mr McGuinness indicated that movement on arms would not be possible until all the terms of the Good Friday accord had been met.

That included the formation of an Executive, with up to 10 ministers, which Sinn Fein was entitled to join, he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"What we need to do is implement the agreement, take away the causes of the conflict and in doing so take all of the guns, British and Irish, out of Irish politics. You're asking me if that can be done? Yes I think it can be done."

His party's aims were broader than dismantling the armouries of the IRA, the UVF and the UDA, he said.

"We believe that we also must remove British guns. We must remove the guns of the British Army. We must remove the guns of the RUC.

"The object of the exercise for Sinn Fein has been to take away the reasons why people resort to armed force. It is a total determination on behalf of my party to fulfil the full terms of the Good Friday agreement.

"The agreement commits all of the participants to use whatever influence they may have to bring about the decommissioning issue."

t Unionist politicians yesterday condemned compensation payments totalling pounds 76,000 to terrorist prisoners held in the Maze Prison. The payments were awarded to between 200 and 250 IRA prisoners who had "property lost, damaged or confiscated" during searches after an escape tunnel was discovered, said a Northern Ireland Office spokesman.

The payments were even made to men who had been carrying out the tunnelling. Ulster Unionist security spokesman Ken Maginnis said it was an example of what was wrong with the prison system in Northern Ireland. "People who have their businesses destroyed are finding it exceedingly difficult and yet here we have those unthinkable figures given to the prisoners," he said.

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