Trimble in IRA arms clash

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The Independent Online
A TIMETABLE for the IRA and other paramilitary groups to begin surrendering their weapons is being worked on to break the deadlock in the peace process. Despite the intervention of Tony Blair, there was no sign of progress.

The Prime Minister met the main party leaders, including the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, at Labour's conference in Blackpool to try to force the pace of the peace settlement amid fears that it was becoming bogged down over the IRA's failure to begin decommissioning its weapons.

David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader and First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, will meet Mr Adams today in Belfast for more talks, but was still holding out for movement by the IRA before agreeing to the next stage of the process - the setting up of the executive on which Mr Adams and Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, are due to serve.

Mr Adams made clear that he could not order the IRA to begin decommissioning, but Mr Trimble said: "He can."

Despite the continued deadlock, the Prime Minister's official spokesman was confident the peace settlement would not be allowed to fail. "This was not the day when they were expecting any sort of a great breakthrough but we have been here before," he said.

"There are difficulties along the way. We will face these difficulties and get through it but work is in progress."

The decommissioning body, which is included in the Good Friday Agreement, is working on a timetable for the handover of weapons. It may be used to persuade Unionists that weapons will be surrendered, possibly after the 31 October deadline for setting up the executive, the all-Ireland council and the policy implementation bodies.

Mr Trimble hinted that he may seek to extend the deadline, insisting that there was flexibility in the Agreement over the implementation of the new bodies. After a meeting with the Prime Minister and Seamus Mallon, the deputy leader of the nationalist SDLP, Mr Trimble said: "We are determined to keep working on these matters in a positive manner." But he warned Sinn Fein: "The Agreement is a package and it won't work unless it all works."

Mr Mallon, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, complained that decommissioning had become the "political whipping boy" of Unionist opponents.

Ronnie Flanagan, RUC Chief Constable, announced last night the closure of six military posts, a decision which he said was a result of the reduced security threat.

The announcement came shortly after Unionist politicians condemned a review of personal weapons held by Royal Irish Regiment soldiers. Already 160 guns have been handed in voluntarily and a further 20 withdrawn.

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