INTERNATIONAL

Irish peace deal collapses

LONDON OCT. 22. The much-hyped deal to revive the Northern Ireland peace process was put on hold after the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) rejected the IRA's assurances on arms decommissioning. However, elections to the Provincial Assembly, announced by the British Government on Tuesday, would go ahead as schedule on November 26.

The setback came even as the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, were waiting to rubber-stamp the deal, billed as the most significant development in Northern Ireland politics since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Mr. Blair called the glitch as "more than a little frustrating'' but vowed to go on trying.

"As always with Northern Ireland, we will just have to try, try and try again.''

In rejecting the deal, the UUP leader, David Trimble, was seen to have acted under pressure from party hardliners who have consistently opposed any political cohabitation with the Republicans until the IRA was shut down completely.

Mr. Trimble's surprise move came after the head of the international decommissioning body, General John de Chastelain, confirmed a new act of decommissioning by the IRA following an IRA statement that it had authorised a "process of putting arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity''. But Gen. de Chastelain's refusal to give details of the quantity or types of weapons which had been destroyed (he is barred by a confidentiality clause from doing so) infuriated Mr. Trimble.

"We were expecting to have a report from General de Chastelain on transparent acts of decommissioning...Unfortunately we have not had that,'' he said adding that "in view of the failure of the IICD (Independent International Commission on Decommissioning) to create the necessary confidence...We are in effect putting the sequence on hold.''

His announcement provoked anger from the Republicans who had gone to some lengths to accommodate the Unionists' concerns over decommissioning.

The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, was reported to be furious and said he had no idea "what went wrong''.

If the deal had gone through, the UUP and the Sinn Fein would have returned to a power-sharing government after next month's elections to the Assembly which was suspended last October after allegations of spying against the IRA. The UUP stand makes the elections meaningless.

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