Unionists are split over seat at peace table

The Unionist population may be split down the middle on the question of whether the leader of the Ulster Unionist's, David Trimble should sit at the table with Sinn Fein when talks open in Belfast on Monday.

A poll carried out by BBC Northern Ireland's Hearts and Minds television programme found that just over 50 per cent of Unionists wanted their leaders to negotiate face to face with Sinn Fein. Just under 50 per cent were against.

Mr Trimble yesterday met Tony Blair in Downing Street, apparently seeking last-minute concessions which might ease his party's dilemma over the talks. The poll indicates how delicate the Ulster Unionist party's position is as it contemplates whether to go into negotiations.

Mr Trimble was unwilling to comment later on whether his party was now likely to take part in the talks."We stressed to him the need for the Government to act against the situation where over recent weeks we have seen what could be called a tidal wave of republican triumphalism," he said.

The discussion had focussed on the need for confidence-building measures to reassure the Unionist community that there would be due regard to "basic democratic principles and the objective of ensuring genuine peace," he added.

nThe government has circulated the names of a number of people who may make up the international commission on arms decommissioning which will be part of the talks process. Among the possibilities are Donald Johnston, former American ambassador to Mongolia and Jack Dangerfield, a retired Canadian general.