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Friday, February 26, 1999 Published at 18:15 GMT


Arms debate goes on

Tony Blair chats to Austria's Chancellor Klima as Bertie Ahern looks on

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern have been reviewing progress in the Northern Ireland peace process at an informal European Union summit near Bonn.

As EU delegates discussed the Union's budget and Europe's farming subsidies, the two prime ministers vowed to battle on with the peace deal's outstanding problems.


Tony Blair: We have a way to take forward the issue of decomissioning
"We're very clear on what we have to do in the Good Friday agreement ... we have just got to keep pushing the thing forward as well as we possibly can," said Tony Blair.

Both Mr Ahern and Mr Blair said the way forward on the outstanding deadlocked issue of paramilitary disarmament was through the official decommissioning commission.


Bertie Ahern: General John de Chastelain has the expertise
Chaired by former Canadian General John de Chastelain, the international commission is trying to take arms out of the province's political arena.

The republican party Sinn Fein insists it is fully cooperating with the commission, which is implementing the final deadline for the handover of arms in May next year.

But some Ulster Unionists are opposing further peace moves because of the IRA's failure to begin disarming.

Arms pressure

According to Mr Ahern and Mr Blair, the following few weeks will be a key time to try and finalise disarmament issues.

"During the month of March ... we can conclude the central aspects," said Mr Blair.

But in a separate development on Friday, the chairman of the IRA's political wing warned that pressure on disarmament could cause irreparable damage to the fragile peace process.

Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin said disarmament should not become a litmus test for progress.

"Those who are now demanding prior decommissioning before we move to setting up the executive are reneging on the Good Friday Agreement," said Mr McLaughlin in an interview with BBC radio.



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