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Trimble threatens Sinn Fein sanctions

Trimble has pledged to keep Sinn Fein out of the cross-border talks  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Northern Ireland's fragile power sharing assembly has suffered a new setback following a key political meeting in Belfast.

First Minister David Trimble, leader of the mainly protestant Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), threatened on Saturday to step up sanctions against rival Sinn Fein -- political ally of the Irish Republican Army.

Trimble said after a meeting of his party's 110-strong executive the increased sanctions threat would be carried out if IRA paramilitaries failed to decommission their weapons.

Trimble said he would keep Sinn Fein out of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council (AIMC) -- one of the key power-sharing bodies designed to end the decades-long struggle between the two groups.

The threat by the UUP is the first major test for the UK's new Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid, who took over from Peter Mandelson two weeks ago after the minister resigned in disgrace.

First Minister Trimble said Sinn Fein did not try hard enough to disarm the IRA. Trimble is preparing to implement a phased strategy of sanctions against Sinn Fein in a bid to force IRA decommissioning.

He said: "Let there be no mistake about it -- we are determined to achieve both devolution and decommissioning."

Trimble outlined a series of penalties against Sinn Fein to be implemented over the coming weeks if the IRA does not put its weapons beyond use.

The measures consist of a continuation of the ban on Sinn Fein ministers in the power sharing executive attending cross-border body meetings with the Irish Government.

They also include a ban on them also participating in conferences involving the British and Irish Governments and UK devolved administrations, and a move in the Assembly to exclude Education Minister Martin McGuinness and Health Minister Bairbre de Brun from office if the other sanctions fail.

The sanctions came as behind-the-scenes efforts continued in Belfast, London and Dublin to find a formula capable of breaking the impasse between the British and Irish Governments and the province's political parties on decommissioning, policing and the scaling down of Army bases.

However, there is still no sign of the deadlock being broken. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who briefed his party's national executive in Dublin on the talks, accused Trimble of undermining the process.

"Not least the fact that the First Minister is behaving unlawfully, in the words of a High Court Judge, and not least that he is using power arbitrarily against other ministers.

"The way he is proceeding is counterproductive, it is offensive. He is supposed to be promoting the Agreement."

Trimble was also criticised by his Deputy First Minister, Seamus Mallon, who said he would not collude in the strategy against Sinn Fein.

"I'm sorry that the political process with the pro-Agreement parties now has come to the stage, I think the most base stage, where one beats other parties around the head actually to please the more vociferous members of one's own party," he said.

"I think that's bad politics. I think it's bad for the party that's doing it. Certainly it is bad for the political process within which it is operating."

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Ulster Unionist Party - Northern Ireland's largest political party
Sinn Fein
Northern Ireland Office
Northern Ireland Assembly

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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