Unionist leaders wary of British plan to halve military strength in Northern Ireland

August 03, 2005|By Ron DePasquale | Ron DePasquale,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BELFAST, Northern Ireland - British plans for halving the number of its troops in Northern Ireland threaten the safety of Protestants and could delay progress in the province's stalled peace process, Protestant unionist leaders said yesterday.

In response to the Irish Republican Army's pledge last week to end its armed struggle, the British army said it would reduce its strength to the lowest point since Northern Ireland's "Troubles" erupted in 1969.

Hard-line Democratic Unionists said yesterday that that it could take two years for the peace process to lead to power sharing with Sinn Fein, the IRA's political ally.

The Rev. Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist leader, said the British government would "pay the price" for its "surrender to the IRA" and "betrayal" of Protestant unionists, who might indefinitely boycott the peace process.

Paisley is to meet today with Peter Hain, Northern Ireland secretary of state and tomorrow with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Paisley said the government would face the "righteous indignation" of Protestants for cooperating with "the leaders of murderers and the allies of thieves to carry out a plan which will leave Ulster an easy prey to terrorist activity."

As the dismantling of an observation post atop a high-rise apartment building began in Catholic West Belfast, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams dismissed unionist threats to prolong the peace process.

"It is time to move on with the peace process and restore the political institutions," Adams said, referring to Northern Ireland's suspended legislature.

The British government, which has directly ruled Northern Ireland since power-sharing collapsed in 2002, is expected to begin separate negotiations with the deadlocked parties next month.

The IRA was blamed for nearly half of the 3,700 killings during the "Troubles." But Northern Ireland has become peaceful enough, and the British government and Sinn Fein have built enough confidence, for a military withdrawal, said defense analyst Christopher Langton of London's Institute of Strategic Studies.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.