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We won't let peace go, vow unionists; Mitchell talks resume to try to break Irish deadlock.

Ulster Unionists last night vowed to take as long as necessary getting a workable deal with Sinn Fein rather than risk the collapse of the Northern Ireland peace process.

UUP MP Mr Ken Maginnis spoke out on the eve of more talks with former US Senator George Mitchell aimed at unlocking the impasse over devolution and paramilitary decommissioning.

"Whatever we come up with has got to be real," said the UUP security spokesman. Unionists are determined it won't be a fudge or open to a whole series of different interpretations."

The Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP said he was convinced of the commitment of those involved in negotiations - but some were finding it difficult to come to terms with the political realities.

"There is no doubt that those involved are quite desperate to find an answer," he said.

"I think there are those who find it more difficult than others to grapple with the reality of a complex, political situation.

"But whatever time it takes to break new ground is worthwhile. To get it wrong would be to bring the whole process crumbling about our heads. There are still huge problems but it is better to take time than to rush it. Whatever we come up with now must be understood by everyone to mean the same thing."

The two sides spent long hours last week in intensive negotiations, shrouded in secrecy, at Castle Buildings, Stormont, trying to broker a deal.

The Good Friday Agreement has been stalled for the past 19 months because the UUP refuses to form a power-sharing government with Sinn Fein unless the IRA agrees to give up its guns and bombs.

Participants have remained extremely secretive about the details of the talks.

But it is thought a possible compromise could centre around some sort of formula with a number of steps for setting up an inclusive executive and a decommissioning timetable.

Precise timing of these two processes would have to be inter-locked in such a way that neither republicans nor unionists would feel they had been defeated or humiliated.

UUP leader Mr David Trimble promised his party's ruling executive he would not waver from its "No guns, no government" stance but told them any deal may bring "some pain" for unionists.

Mr Maginnis said this remark should not be over-interpreted, but meant many unionists still found it hard to accept the concept of Sinn Fein in government.

However, sources said progress at Stormont was being stymied by lack of flexibility on the republican side.

Sinn Fein vice president Mr Pat Doherty said all supporters of the Good Friday Agreement would share in the frustration that it had not yet been implemented. The Sinn Fein leadership has repeatedly stressed the importance of reaching a deal "sooner rather than later" in order to thwart rejectionist unionists and dissident loyalist violence.

The SDLP has suggested it may now be time for Senator Mitchell to lay his proposals on the table but Mr Maginnis said that might hinder rather than help at this point.

"George Mitchell is not going to put down proposals to have them summarily rejected by anybody," he said. "He is going to have to be very circumspect."

It is thought Senator Mitchell wanted to call a halt to his review of the workings of the Belfast peace accord this weekend, but is staying on in the hope a breakthrough can be achieved.
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Author:Cowan, Rosie
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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