Major and Reynolds target arms caches

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Pressure was intensified last night on the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries to surrender their weapons after a summit meeting at Chequers between John Major and Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister.

However, demonstrating a growing confidence in the ceasefires, yesterday there were no troops on the streets of Londonderry for the first time in 25 years. The Army has scaled down patrols there and in Strabane and Omagh, Co Tyrone. An Army spokesman confirmed that members of the King's Own Royal Border Regiment and the Prince of Wales's Royal Regiment had returned to barracks.

In a clear signal to reassure Ulster Unionist supporters, Mr Major gave priority to the surrender of weapons. Officials from both governments were told to draw up plans for arranging the hand-over of explosives and weapons on both sides of the border.

Mr Major did not lay down the surrender of weapons as a precondition to talks between British civil servants and Sinn Fein leaders before Christmas.

He said those talks would go ahead 'to deal about (sic) the mechanisms of getting into the mainstream talks. I don't want to anticipate those talks .

. .'

Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein leader, has said the surrender of arms cannot be discussed until the 'end of the road'. Mr Reynolds said it was unlikely that the problem of arms would have to be faced within the next few weeks, but it was important to deal with it now.

It appeared that Mr Major was more anxious to hold yesterday's summit than Mr Reynolds, because the Irish were concerned about the outstanding differences on the framework document, which yesterday's meeting failed to resolve.

The two prime ministers expressed confidence that the document, setting out a package of proposals on the future of Northern Ireland, would be agreed.

But differences remain over the powers of executive bodies to operate across the border on matters such as tourism and trade; and on the renunciation of the Irish constitutional claim to Ulster.

Mr Major denied he was seeking to establish an internal agreement on an elected assembly for Ulster before reaching an agreement on North-South relations and the role of London and Dublin in overseeing the final package.

In talks lasting three hours and including the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, and Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, 'solid' progress was made.

A liaison committee of officials will meet today to work on the new political direction given after the summit. But the two prime ministers ordered separate work on the surrender of weapons to be prepared by officials. Mr Major said both governments would have to deal simultaneously with the handover of weapons.

'Both the Taoiseach and I want to deal effectively with the serious problems of weapons and explosives. Peace won't finally be assured in Northern Ireland until the paramilitaries . . . have put their weapons away,' Mr Major said.

The two prime ministers also agreed in their three hours together to give priority to combating racketeering, drug dealing and other crimes that had funded terrorism. They discussed ways of co-ordinating action against the paramilitaries and Mr Major praised the raids by the Garda at the weekend on a suspected hardline breakaway movement from the IRA.

'What we decided we would do this morning is examine the logistics and mechanisms of arranging for the weapons to be handed over . . .' Mr Major said. 'We haven't been setting time-scales.'

Mr Reynolds said: 'Both of us agree now we have the guns silent. It is important that arrangements have to be made for their destruction at the end of the day.'

Mr Major also emphasised the importance of economic development to ensure unemployed people did not revert to crime and terrorism. 'I think we have entered a new phase in the peace process, a phase that should see exploratory talks with Sinn Fein before the end of the year. We are going to have to work extremely hard to make up all the opportunities that have been lost in 25 years.'

Mr Reynolds confirmed that the surrender of the Republic's claim to the North was one of the remaining issues to be resolved. He emphasised the importance of achieving 'balance' between the identities and traditions of the two communities - seen as a hint that he wants changes to the British legislation establishing Ulster in return for abandoning the constitutional claim by the South in a referendum.