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Britain Urged to Save Peace in N. Ireland

April 09, 2000|From Associated Press

DUBLIN, Ireland — Northern Ireland risks "a slide back to conflict" if Britain doesn't soon order Protestant politicians to resume sharing power with Catholics, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said Saturday at his party's annual conference.

"All of the good work of recent years could be frittered away," Adams told members of his IRA-linked party in Dublin, the capital of the Irish republic.

He appealed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to transfer powers immediately back to the province's four-party government, which was created two years ago under the Good Friday peace accord and suspended in February. Adams did not offer any new gestures from his party.

"If the decline of the Good Friday agreement is to be reversed before it becomes terminal, then Mr. Blair must steer his government and this process out of the current wobble," Adams said. "He must act to save the peace process."

Formed in December, the unprecedented coalition government involving Sinn Fein lasted just 10 weeks before Britain stripped its powers and resumed direct control of the province, citing the Irish Republican Army's continued refusal to begin disarming.

Under a U.S.-mediated deal, Protestants were to accept Sinn Fein as Cabinet colleagues, and in return the IRA was to start scrapping its hidden weapons stockpiles or at least confirm that it eventually would do so. The IRA did neither.

Blair's minister responsible for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson, emphasized Saturday that he could not force the province's major Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, to work alongside Sinn Fein as long as the IRA made no disarmament pledge. He said a clear IRA commitment would best break the political impasse.

"Only the IRA can create that confidence by making their intentions clear," Mandelson said in a speech near Belfast, Northern Ireland.

At the Sinn Fein conference, Adams counseled his audience that any return to violence now wouldn't advance the party's political goals.

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