Guarded optimism from Adams over peace process

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THE Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams spoke of 'guarded optimism' over the prospects of peace in Northern Ireland, as violence by both nationalists and loyalists broke out across the province.

Mr Adams disclosed discussing a ceasefire with the IRA. Speaking 10 days after Sinn Fein in effect rejected the Downing Street peace declaration, Mr Adams insisted: 'The peace process remains firmly on the tracks and it is my view that it will not be derailed, and, in fact, that it can move forward.'

The IRA confirmed in a statement last night that Mr Adams had given them, at their request, 'an assessment of the current situation . . . as part of our overall consideration in regard to the peace process'.

The development followed speculation on both sides of the Irish border about the prospects of an early limited IRA ceasefire. Sinn Fein had been strongly critical of the declaration after a conference in Co Donegal last month.

Mr Adams told Irish television he had met IRA bosses and his senior Sinn Fein colleague Martin McGuinness before the party meeting. He refused to go into details, but reported: 'As a result of the discussions, I can say I am guardedly optimistic the situation can be moved forward. We have to pursue this search for peace single-mindedly. We have done so.'

The ceasefire issue 'obviously was discussed' in the talks with the IRA leaders, said Mr Adams 'but it would not be sound or even right at this time to get into detail. I have always said I would never deceive the IRA. Neither would I deceive people about the IRA.'

In south Armagh, three soldiers were slightly injured and 20 homes and businesses damaged in an IRA mortar bomb exploded inside an army and police base at Newtownhamilton.

Yesterday's blast was the second mortar attack on the base in a month, the last bringing down a helicopter as it was taking off, though the army patrol on board escaped injury. It follows closely last Friday's mortar assault on Newry police station in which five members of the security forces and 47 members of the public were hurt when three devices landed in and around the town-centre base. The single bomb that exploded inside the perimeter of Newtownhamilton base just after 10am was launched from the back of a grey jeep parked behind the base.

Ulster Freedom Fighter gunmen launched three separate attacks in Belfast in 12 hours early yesterday as Joe Bratty, their commander in the the south Belfast area, was buried. No one was hurt in the attacks, but two men travelling to work had a narrow escape when their car was raked with gunfire. Two men and woman were also unhurt after the loyalist terrorists threw a breeze block through their living room window before firing inside. Shortly after shots were fired in the nationalist Short Strand area.