Tue, Nov 30, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Sinn Fein leader urges Tony Blair to withdraw troops

AFP , BELFAST

Gerry Adams was set yesterday to urge British Prime Minister Tony Blair to accelerate the withdrawal of troops from republican strongholds of Northern Ireland, the Sinn Fein leader said on Irish television.

Adams and Martin McGuinness, his No. 2 in Sinn Fein, the political wing of the militant Irish Republican Army, were to meet Blair in Downing Street along with Northern Ireland police chief Hugh Orde.

It's the first face-to-face meeting between Orde and the Sinn Fein leaders.

"This is a crucial meeting in which we will be expecting Mr. Blair and his chief constable to deliver for us on demilitarizing republican heartlands," as promised in a joint London-Dublin agreement last year, Adams said on RTE public television on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, Adams received a phone call from US President George W. Bush, who offered to mediate in the Northern Ireland conflict.

Bush had on Friday called Ian Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, which supports continued British rule in Northern Ireland, to make the same offer.

"I thank president Bush for his interest. I briefed the president on Sinn Fein's objectives in the current negotiations," Adams said on efforts to get a power-sharing agreement between the Catholic and Protestant groupings in the British province back on track.

"These are to get the DUP [the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party] on board for an agreement and to ensure that the British government position remains faithful to the power-sharing, equality-based and all-Ireland institutions contained in the Good Friday agreement," he said.

"I told him we may need the help of the White House" to secure these, added the leader of the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, which has been resisting efforts to disarm following the 1998 Good Friday peace accords.

Adams said he did not expect the US government's new special envoy for Northern Ireland, Mitchell Reiss, to return to Northern Ireland at this stage.

Reiss was in Northern Ireland in February for his first visit, on the eve of what were expected to be months of talks to revive the province's self-governing Assembly and executive, suspended since 2002. The UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland's political parties have been working to revive the power-sharing government that was intended to end three decades of sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics.

The institutions, created under the Good Friday peace accords in 1998, were suspended in 2002 following a crisis triggered by allegations of IRA espionage targeting Protestant politicians.

The DUP never embraced the Good Friday pact, having refused to compromise with Sinn Fein.

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