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New drive for N.Ireland deal

Trimble says he will resign within weeks unless the IRA starts to disarm  

LONDON, England -- Political leaders from the UK and Ireland are holding a fresh round of talks aimed at breaking the deadlock threatening the Northern Ireland peace process.

Ulster Unionists and republicans are deadlocked over the issue of Irish Republican Army (IRA) disarmament.

A year ago, as part of a wider deal that resuscitated the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, the IRA issued an unprecedented proclamation to put its weapons "completely and verifiably beyond use."

Republicans say the IRA has followed the landmark Good Friday peace agreement by putting its weapons beyond use, but unionists argue the arms need to be handed over to the authorities.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern are meeting on Monday in Downing Street with Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble and later with Gerry Adams, leader of the republican political party, Sinn Fein.

The talks will try to resolve the issues of IRA disarmament, police reforms, the scaling down of military bases in Northern Ireland and the ban on Sinn Fein ministers attending cross-border body meetings.

Speaking in west Belfast before leaving for London, Adams said: "At the core of all of this is the fact that we are in a process of change.

"There is resistance to that change, but the most powerful player in this is the British Government.

"The only reason we are going to London today is to have that engagement with Mr Blair and to see if he is serious about moving our process forward."

Overshadowing the talks is Trimble's threat to resign as the head of the Northern Ireland assembly on July 1 if the IRA has not begun disarming. Trimble was an architect of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Trimble said last month: "The IRA promised a year and two days ago that they would put their weapons beyond use. There was no deadline then and they were given a whole year to do something. They haven't done it.

"June of this year was set by the governments last year as being the date for the full implementation of the agreement. Consequently with the focus on the June date, I thought I would make it absolutely clear that the June deadline mattered."

Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness, who is education minister in the Northern Ireland government, warned Trimble that his resignation would be "disastrous" for the peace process.

McGuinness also predicted that Trimble's announcement would make it "less likely" for the IRA to move on weapons.

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid criticised Trimble's action as counterproductive. Reid said it would "be highly regrettable if he were to exclude himself from institutions which are already improving the lives of people in Northern Ireland."

The talks are due to continue in Belfast under the chairmanship of Reid and Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowan during the week.

• Ulster Unionist Party
• Northern Ireland Office
• The Northern Ireland Executive
• D U P

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