Thu, May 08, 2003 - Page 7 News List

IRA frustrated with slow pace of the peace process

AFP , LONDON

Leaders of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the nationalist Irish Republican Army (IRA), were expected to voice frustration yesterday at Britain's Northern Ireland policy after London called on the paramilitaries to clarify their position on disarmament.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and chief negotiator Martin McGuinness were due to hold a London press conference the day after the IRA issued two statements on its willingness to give up some of its arms.

Both Sinn Fein members of parliament (MPs) are expected to express republican frustration at the British government's decision to withhold implementation of part of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement and at the postponement of elections to the province's assembly.

"We made preparations for a quantity of munitions to be put beyond use," the IRA said in a press statement Tuesday.

The group said that "there is no lack of clarity" in an earlier statement -- passed to the British and Irish governments on April 13 but made public Tuesday -- which outlined its intentions regarding disarmament and addressing the concerns of Northern Ireland's Protestant community.

"In the event of agreement we were prepared to act immediately and our preparations were at an advanced stage," the IRA said.

London and Dublin and the Protestant Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble have said they wanted a clearer statement from republicans on the IRA's intentions to fully disarm.

"Regrettably the two governments and the UUP rejected our statement and our initiatives," the IRA statement said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair decided last Thursday to postpone elections for a new Northern Ireland Assembly from May 29 until this autumn after the IRA failed to clearly declare an end to paramilitary activities.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy said late Tuesday that the Good Friday peace agreement remained the only sustainable basis for peace between the province's rival Protestant and Catholic communities.

"In the coming weeks and months we will work openly and transparently to fulfil our side of the bargain... and we call on the IRA to find the clarity in both words and deeds to convince the people of Northern Ireland that they are ready to fulfil theirs," said Murphy.

London and Dublin were partners in the implementation of the Good Friday peace accords which envisioned limited self-rule for Northern Ireland, with power shared between the loyalist Protestant majority and largely republican Roman Catholic community.

"While the original IRA statement does represent some progress, unfortunately it does not answer the questions which the British and Irish governments put to the IRA and Sinn Fein spokespersons," Murphy said earlier Tuesday.

"Does this mean punishment beatings will end? Does this mean exiling people will end? Does this mean targeting and weapons procurement will end? On the basis of these statements we simply do not know," he said.

Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern pledged earlier Tuesday to push forward all elements of the Northern Ireland peace process that were not contingent on full IRA disarmament.

These include reforms to criminal justice and policing; equality before the law for Protestants and Roman Catholics and safeguarding the Gaelic language.

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