IRA told to accept declaration 'in weeks': Immediate end to violence urged. Colin Brown and David McKittrick report

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LEADERS of the IRA and Sinn Fein were told last night they had a 'few more weeks' to accept the Downing Street declaration by John Major and Albert Reynolds, both of whom called for an immediate cessation of the violence.

The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach said after talks at Downing Street lasting nearly two hours that there was 'no shred of justification' for further violence by republican and loyalist paramilitaries after the British Government's clarification of the declaration.

In a message to Sinn Fein, Mr Reynolds said: 'If the internal debate continues another few weeks so be it, as long as the violence stops today.' He said the British document answering the 20 questions from Sinn Fein had removed all the 'blockages - the logic now is for a cessation of violence'.

Mr Major said he saw 'nothing new' in remarks by Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, who was reported on the BBC as saying he was convinced a peace settlement would come out of the peace process.

The Prime Minister said: 'What is quite striking is what he didn't say. He made no indication he was going to give up violence . . . That is what I am waiting to hear from Mr Adams.'

The Sinn Fein president resisted all efforts to extract from him a response to last week's answers about the declaration.

He said a definitive response would not be given until after next month's European elections. He denied his party was prevaricating, saying the Government had taken five months to meet Sinn Fein's request for clarification. He spoke approvingly of some aspects of the replies, such as the recognition that Sinn Fein had an electoral mandate, but said some republicans had taken exception to other parts of the answers.

The Government's move has placed Sinn Fein under great political pressure. Most parties in Ireland, north and south, are now pressing the republicans to react, preferably with an IRA ceasefire.

But Ken Maginnis, the Ulster Unionist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, raised unionist suspicions that Mr Adams will attempt a propaganda coup by calling a temporary ceasefire to coincide with the visit to Britain in nine days of President Clinton.

Church leaders have warned that the loyalists are becoming dangerously disillusioned with the talks, and Mr Maginnis predicted that the two governments would be thrown on to 'back foot' by Mr Adams.

In an attempt to keep Sinn Fein on the defensive, the two prime ministers agreed further progress on the moves towards devolving powers to the democratic parties, including the establishment of cross-border bodies.

'The two governments are not going to wait around for any more prevarication,' Mr Reynolds said.

Dublin and London are engaged in tough negotiations over a framework document for a settlement, from which Sinn Fein will be excluded if the violence continues. In spite of 'quite a lot of progress', Mr Major said he could not guarantee it would be ready for their next summit in July.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 18

(Photograph omitted)