Hard disarmament negotiations lie ahead in Northern Ireland Sinn Fein leader emphasizes intransigent position of IRA

September 07, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DUBLIN, Ireland -- Gerry Adams, the leader of the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, said yesterday that he could not guarantee that the IRA would agree to disarm during the negotiations in the new Northern Ireland assembly.

The IRA said last week, timing its statement for President Clinton's three-day visit to Ireland, that although it found the new Northern Ireland peace agreement a "significant development," it had no plans to disarm.

Disarmament will be a major hurdle for the assembly, a mixture of Roman Catholic and Protestant politicians. The assembly is charged with putting in effect the accord that was approved by leaders in April and overwhelmingly approved by voters in the mostly Protestant British province of Northern Ireland and here in the overwhelmingly Catholic Irish Republic.

The hard-line statement yesterday from Adams, president of Sinn Fein, contrasted with his remarks on the eve of Clinton's visit, when he emphasized that sectarian warfare was a thing of the past. But many politicians noted that he had stopped well short of saying that the IRA would never use violence again.

Clinton and Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Bertie Ahern of Ireland praised his statement last week.

But yesterday Adams returned to the intransigent position of the IRA on disarmament, which has been that it is a matter for the IRA alone to decide. The IRA has an estimated 100 tons of machine guns, mortars and Semtex explosive. The outlawed organization has been observing a cease-fire for 14 months.

Disarmament is likely to delay the work of the assembly, even though Adams is expected to meet this week for the first time with David Trimble, leader of the Protestant Ulster Unionist Party and first minister of the assembly. Until now Trimble has declined to talk directly to Adams, saying he doubted that Sinn Fein and the IRA were serious about working for a lasting peace settlement. The sectarian warfare has killed more than 3,200 people in Northern Ireland in the past 30 years.

Yesterday, as Adams stuck to the IRA hard line, Trimble made comments that appeared to soften his position slightly.

Adams, in an interview with Irish national radio, said Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, would discuss the issue with the disarmament commission created in the April agreement, but that this did not mean that there would be disarmament.

"We will seek to use our influence to bring about disarmament," Adams said. "None of us have the ability to compel those who have weapons to hand them over."

Adams also scoffed at the significance of whether he and Trimble would perform a symbolic handshake at their expected meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland's capital.

Trimble is unlikely to shake hands, because that would make him vulnerable to attack by hard-liners in his own party and in the Democratic Unionist Party.

Pub Date: 9/07/98

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