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Tuesday, January 6, 1998 Published at 14:29 GMT


Loyalist prisoners in urgent talks
image: [ The infamous H-blocks of the Maze prison ]
The infamous H-blocks of the Maze prison

The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, and other Loyalist politicians are holding urgent meetings with Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Freedom Fighters prisoners in the Maze Prison to gauge their mood and attitude towards the peace process.

[ image: David Trimble to gauge paramilitaries' attitude toward talks]
David Trimble to gauge paramilitaries' attitude toward talks
Mr Trimble, who had what he described as "positive" talks with the Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday, has also had a meeting of more than one hour with the Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam earlier in the day.

On his way in to the Maze, John White, prisoners spokesman of the Ulster Democratic Party, said that he hoped to convince them of the need for the UDP to remain in the peace talks. "We're hoping to convince them to support us in the talks and also to send the same message to the UFF [Ulster Freedom Fighters]," he said.

[ image: John White, prisoners spokesman for the Ulster Democratic Party]
John White, prisoners spokesman for the Ulster Democratic Party
"They will make the ultimate decision whether to support us in the talks process and what the prisoners decide here today will have a massive influence.

"If we're not in the talks process there is the possiblity that what we're going to witness is the return to fullscale conflict in this province."

John White speaking to reporters outside the Maze Prison (1'09")
The already delicate peace process has been undermined by a series of sectarian killings since Christmas, sparked by the murder of Loyalist paramilitary, Billy Wright, at the Maze, and by a vote from within prison in which a majority of the 130 UDA and UFF members in the Maze withdrew their support for the peace talks.

Loyalists politicians want the Government to introduce measures to calm Protestant fears over the direction of the peace process.

[ image: Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam addresses reporters]
Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam addresses reporters
On Monday, in a series of informal talks with the Northern Ireland Secretary, a succession of Loyalist representatives let her know of their concerns.

The next round of formal discussions is due to begin in Belfast next week with the presence of the Progressive Unionist Party now in doubt. They told Dr Mowlam that she has until the weekend to come up with a formula to guarantee their return to the negotiating table.

Dr Mowlam: The shaky truce will hold (3'26")
But on Monday, Dr Mowlam ruled out any immediate movement on Loyalist demands for the early release of some of their prisoners.

Dr Mowlam said: "I think it [the prisoners] is an issue which has to be dealt with. But I have to say that after the events of last week, this is not the moment to address it.

The BBC's John Thorne reports on the implications of Tuesday's peace talks (0'42")
"What we need is to be back in the talks, with progress being made for that to be a possibility," she said.

After her meetings with Loyalists, Dr Mowlam said that she believed the shaky truce would hold but Loyalists left the talks at Stormont deeply unhappy.

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28 Dec 97 | UK
The Maze - home to paramilitaries

05 Jan 98 | UK
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05 Jan 98 | UK
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