IRA rules out an early arms handover

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The Independent Online

Stirrings of hope for a breakthrough in the peace process remained alive last night after another day of serious negotiations between Unionists and republicans at Stormont.

Stirrings of hope for a breakthrough in the peace process remained alive last night after another day of serious negotiations between Unionists and republicans at Stormont.

The apparent willingness of the IRA to issue a statement of reassurance to Unionists was thought to have created the prospects of real movement in the talks, which are being brokered by the former US senator George Mitchell.

Speculation centred on the idea of a series of steps, to be agreed between Sinn Fein and David Trimble's Ulster Unionists, designed to lead towards the formation of a new executive and towards IRA arms de-commissioning.

But republican sources continued to insist that actual decommissioning was not to be expected at any early stage. This raised the question of how Mr Trimble might sell to his divided party any scheme which did not conform to its policy of "no guns, no government". It includes many who absolutely insist early decommissioning must take place, together with many who are implacably opposed to the idea of a cross-community executive.

Despite obstacles in the way of agreement, the general mood remained upbeat, in contrast to the prevailing pessimism of recent weeks.

Mr Trimble yesterday flitted between Stormont's Castle Buildings, where the negotiations take place, and the Stormont parliament buildings, where he met members of his assembly party. This was interpreted by some as an indication that he was preparing the way to announce a deal.

But although expectations were high, most speculation centred on a series of phased steps which would see Unionists move towards forming a government while republicans moved in the direction of decommissioning.

A first draft of a possible IRA statement was said to have been turned down by Unionist negotiators. The elements of a deal are said to hinge on such a statement, which would be made in concert with other statements from the Unionist party, the British, Irish and American governments and the Decommissioning Commission, which is headed by the Canadian general John de Chastelain.

There is also conjecture that the IRA would appoint an interlocutor to liaise with the general's commission. Obstacles to peace, page 4

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