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Britain's Major Hails N. Ireland Peace Momentum

October 23, 1994|WILLIAM TUOHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The search for lasting peace in Northern Ireland has taken a "quantum leap forward," British Prime Minister John Major declared Saturday, a day after announcing that his government is ready to open talks with the IRA's political arm.

"I think there is now a momentum that will carry (the peace process) further," Major said, adding that he is "very encouraged" by the reception his proposals have gotten from Protestant and Catholic officials and the public.

Those proposals include opening border crossings with the Republic of Ireland; allowing leaders of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, to travel freely in Britain, and recognizing the cease-fire being observed by Catholic and Protestant paramilitaries in the province.

Also Saturday, in the Republic of Ireland, police raided bases of suspected terrorists--including IRA dissidents--and arrested several people.

"This is a warning shot across the bows of anyone tempted to turn back to terrorism," a senior security source said, according to the Irish news agency Ireland International.

After his announcement Friday, Major made a surprising symbolic gesture by dining at a Belfast restaurant with Patrick Mayhew, Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, and Mayhew's wife. He then spent the night at Hillsborough Castle--the first prime minister to do so since the sectarian violence began 25 years ago.

On Saturday, Major visited the unionist city of Lisburn and met Britain's army commander and its police chief in Northern Ireland to discuss ways to get paramilitaries to turn in weapons and explosives.

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