Nervous Ulster leaders in flurry of denials

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The Independent Online

The Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein sought, in their different ways yesterday, to calm the storm caused by republican comments that appeared to cast doubts on the IRA's willingnesss to decommission.

The Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein sought, in their different ways yesterday, to calm the storm caused by republican comments that appeared to cast doubts on the IRA's willingnesss to decommission.

The comments brought calls for clarification from the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, which swiftly produced Sinn Fein denials that its spokesmen had ruled out decommissioning. The comments were reported in the United States by senior Sinn Fein representatives Pat Doherty and Martin Ferris, who are among the party's most important negotiators.

Mr Doherty reportedly replied: "No, no, no", when asked if he was confident the IRA would disarm. After accounts of this circulated he expressed "dismay and deep concern" about the reports, saying he had been quoted out of context.

Reports that Mr Ferris had also said there would be no decommissioning were described by Sinn Fein as a misquotation. A spokesman added: "He is totally at one with us. He has totally dissociated himself from that inaccurate and misleading report."

Mr Trimble yesterday repeated his call for clarification in an interview with Sir David Frost on television, saying: "I think it is important that the republican movement carries out its side of the bargain and I think it very important that over the next few days Mr Adams makes it clear that he's going to deliver."

He said he expected Mr Adams to confirm that his party would deliver "what we have agreed".

Since the Ulster Unionist party and Sinn Fein have established a degree of discreet co-ordination, with the aim of making sure the deal they have struck goes through, Mr Adams is expected to deliver some words of comfort shortly.

A tight timetable has now been established, with Mr Trimble due to take the plan to his party's ruling Ulster Unionist Council on Saturday.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, announced at the weekend that he is to summon the Belfast assembly a week from today. Assuming the council backs Mr Trimble, this means a cabinet could be elected next Monday with power being devolved to it from Westminster two days later.

Mr Mandelson yesterday praised Mr Trimble, whose work had, he said, "brought Unionism closer to its cherished goal than any other leader of his party ever could."

The Ulster Unionist leader yesterday dominated the Northern Ireland airwaves and press coverage, with interviews and signed articles. He argued that the statements issued last week by Sinn Fein and the IRA constituted a statement of intent both to disarm and to end the use of violence for good.

He said it was clear that the republican movement had already changed in ways which many people had thought impossible. Mr Trimble compared the ending of violence to stopping an express train, saying it could only be done slowly.

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