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Cyril Ramaphosa speaks on BBC Radio Ulster
Task should be straight forward as people are supporting the peace process
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Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Ramaphosa hopeful on weapons

The arms issue is a "Rubicon" issue for republicans
Newly appointed arms inspector Cyril Ramaphosa has said his previous contacts with Northern Ireland politicans prepares him well for his new role.

The Search for Peace
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Under the terms of the deal arrived at on Friday, Mr Ramaphosa and the former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari were appointed as independent inspectors who would ensure that IRA arms were being kept securely and "beyond use".

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, the former senior African National Congress figure said the initial approach for him to get involved came on Friday from Downing Street.

Cyril Ramaphosa: Has met NI politicians
He said Mr Blair contacted him personally on Saturday and outlined to him what his role would entail but he stressed that the details had still to be confirmed.

"I am sure all that will be disclosed to us when we get there," he said.

"The task should be pretty straight forward, particularly if you are dealing with people who will be of assistance and supporting the peace process."

He said the presence of Mr Ahtisaari on the team would also be a helpful factor.

Mr Ramaphosa believes he has strong links with both unionist and nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland and admits that the ANC has had strong links with Sinn Fein.

"We have had a relationship with Sinn Fein through our involvement with Northern Ireland and my visit there.

"I have met with David Trimble both in South Africa and in Northern Ireland.

"I am rather pleased that one can get involved in a situation where you are able to relate to the parties in a very difficult process like this and have and retain their trust."

Martti Ahtisaari: Crucial role in securing peace in Yugoslavian air war
He has previously visited Northern Ireland and met politicians from both sides when they were invited to spend some time in South Africa in the summer of 1997.

The invitation was issued by former South African President Nelson Mandela who stressed the need for Northern Ireland's politicians to "negotiate with their enemies" during the visit.

Born in Soweto, a collection of black townships south west of Johannesburg in 1952, Mr Ramaphosa experienced the ugliness of South Africa's then-official policy of racial discrimination in 1960, in an encounter that affected him for years afterward.

In that year, during the state of emergency imposed by the government, to quell the unrest that erupted after police killed 69 black demonstrators in the town of Sharpeville, white soldiers were stationed in the area where Mr Ramaphosa's family lived.

One day, as Mr Ramaphosa was walking to school, a soldier kicked him into a ditch for no apparent reason.

He recalled later: "After being kicked like that, I felt bitter against white people, which took me a long time to overcome. But I began to realise that it was the reality of the South African situation."

Solitary confinement

He entered politics as a student at the University of the North at Truffle, one of the ethnic colleges set up by the government, and was detained for the first time in 1974 after organising a rally on the campus.

He was charged with violating South Africa's Terrorism Act and held in solitary confinement at the Pretoria Central Prison.

He qualified as a lawyer, and worked initially in the legal department of a trade union grouping. In 1982 he was elected as the first general-secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, which rapidly grew to become the largest trade union in South Africa.

He played a prominent part in the protest politics of the 1980s, and in 1991 became the secretary-general of the ANC, resigning in 1996.

He was perhaps the ANC's most effective representative during the complex sequence of formal negotiations that began in December 1991 and led towards South Africa's first-ever all-race elections in 1994.

Since 1994 he has chaired the new South African legislature, with responsibility for drafting a new constitution.

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See also:

08 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Arms inspections 'expected by summer'
08 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Move to restore NI power sharing
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA arms offer
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
The arms inspectors
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA arms deadline extended
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA statement in full
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Governments outline agreement timetable
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Assembly statement in full
02 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Q and A: Northern Ireland talks
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Mixed reaction to IRA offer
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