::: u.tv :::


SUNDAY 15/08/2004

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was tonight (yesterday) challenged to tear down Army watchtowers across Northern Ireland and prove he wants the peace process to work. By: Press Association

As a new bid to restore the power-sharing Executive in Belfast drew closer, Sinn Fein accused the British government of a decade-long delay in pulling troops out.

Senior party negotiator Conor Murphy told a rally in south Armagh that pledges to respond to the 1994 IRA ceasefire had not been carried out, leaving republicans and nationalists bitterly sceptical of Downing Street`s commitment to reaching a lasting resolution.

The Newry and Armagh Assemblyman declared: "The message coming from this community cannot be any clearer for the British government. We don`t want to hear the excuses any more.

"We don`t buy any rubbish about so called republican dissidents or the level of threat being posed by the IRA.

"You are stalling, you are breaching an international treaty and the time for you to get your act together has long since passed.

"We don`t want your troops any more. We don`t want to live underneath your spy posts. If you are so keen on these installations then relocate them to London or Birmingham."

Demands for a radical security scaledown came as London and Dublin gear up for all party talks next month in a fresh attempt to get the suspended Stormont Assembly back into operation.

Devolution has been on hold ever since a suspected IRA espionage plot was uncovered at the heart of government in Northern Ireland nearly two years ago.

But Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley`s Democratic Unionists, long thought to be irreconcilable political extremes, have given tentative signals that some sort of deal could be worked out.

DUP sources today played down reports that the British and Irish are ready to give in to a republican wishlist - including an amnesty for IRA fugitives, further policing reforms, banning the use of baton rounds, and major demilitarisation - in return for transparent disarmament by the Provisionals and a pledge to disband.

Only after this was achieved would the second stage of the plan theoretically kick in, with direct talks between unionists and Sinn Fein aimed at having devolution restored, possibl by early next year.

"That`s not how we would see it happening," a well-placed DUP source insisted.

However, Mr Paisley`s deputy, Peter Robinson, is to address a business conference in Dublin next month, a scenario which would have seemed laughable not long ago.

The move has been interpreted as a further sign of the DUP`s increased willingness to reach out and put its message across to a wider audience.

With Mr Adams having already spoken about being ready to remove the IRA "excuse" used by unionists to halt progress, his party is also approaching the negotiations in determined mood.

"They have the potential to deal with all the issues," a republican source said.

"The difficulty is the DUP`s music has been so schizophrenic and the British are playing their cards close to their chest."

As manoeuvres appeared to continue privately, Sinn Fein issued its public call for soldiers to quit Northern Ireland.

Even though Mr Blair has pledged to slash troop levels to a 5,000 peacetime garrison as soon as the IRA declares its war over, Mr Murphy insisted no further delay was excusable.

He told supporters in Crossmaglen: "We are not interested in rationalisation. We are not interested in the British view of normalisation. We are only interested in what the (Good Friday) Agreement demanded.

"Either the British are serious about resolving conflict or they are not."

In a direct message to Mr Blair, he added: "It is time to deliver on your commitments.

"Time to complete the job of removing the apparatus of war. And time to complete the job of implementing the Agreement."

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