Political talks 'stepped up'

A week of intense political activity aimed at generating movement in the Northern Ireland political situation is due to begin.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and chief negotiator Martin McGuinness are due to meet British and Irish officials in London on Monday.

The talks are in preparation for negotiations due to take place at Leeds Castle in Kent, aimed at breaking the deadlock in the Northern Ireland political process.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson is due to hold talks with senior government officials in London on Wednesday, after travelling to Dublin on Tuesday to address an audience of businessmen.

The week will also see discussions at Stormont involving Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy and Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen.

The Ulster Unionists are expected to unveil proposals for the assembly to be given a role in the short term in scrutinising direct rule ministers.

The week's activity should culminate in Tony Blair's Sedgefield constituency on Friday when the prime minister will meet Irish premier Bertie Ahern to assess the chances of progress at the Leeds Castle talks.

Key issues

BBC NI's political editor, Mark Devenport, said a source familiar with the talks had scotched rumours that they could be called off at the last minute.

"The source insisted that a great deal of work was under way on four key issues - ending paramilitary activity, decommissioning all weapons, improving the operation of the Stormont institutions and ensuring the support of all parties for policing and justice," he said.

The political institutions in Northern Ireland were suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at the Northern Ireland Office.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have maintained high-level contacts with both governments over the summer.

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