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New Round of N. Ireland Talks Start, Trying to Restore Self-Rule

November 22, 2002|From Associated Press

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Three of Northern Ireland's major parties launched negotiations Thursday designed to restore their Catholic-Protestant administration of this British territory.

Britain has stripped power from the four-party coalition -- the key achievement of a 1998 peace pact -- and resumed sole control, keeping the coalition technically intact for potential revival.

The major Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, said continuing Irish Republican Army attacks had undermined Protestant support for power-sharing with Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party. They called for the IRA to renounce all forms of violence and continue disarming as the 1998 deal outlined.

The Ulster Unionists last month threatened to resign from the administration, triggering its collapse, after police uncovered an alleged IRA spying operation within government circles. Among four people charged with possessing stolen documents of use to the IRA was Sinn Fein's senior administrator at the Stormont Parliamentary Building, the site of the talks.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble skipped Thursday's negotiations in favor of a political awards ceremony in London. And leaders of the harder-line Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists, boycotted the talks on the grounds that they had never accepted the Good Friday accord of 1998.

But both Sinn Fein and its moderate rival for Catholic votes, the Social Democratic and Labor Party, or SDLP, said the Good Friday pact included a trove of still-unfulfilled goals that would need to be assured alongside any IRA moves.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams came bearing a 2,500-word document that lauded the IRA's contributions to peacemaking, including its 1997 cease-fire and scrapping of a few weapons dumps in the past year. It blamed the political breakdown on the Ulster Unionists, Britain and the SDLP and listed a range of unfulfilled demands, including an amnesty for IRA figures wanted on often decades-old warrants.

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