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The BBC's Sarah Nelson
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The BBC's Tom Coulter
"Demilitarisation and policing issues still need to be addressed"
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Friday, 9 March, 2001, 03:42 GMT
'Progress' in NI peace talks
Tony Blair and Bertie Aherne
Prime ministers say the talking will continue
Tony Blair says progress was made during talks with the political parties in Northern Ireland aimed at moving the peace process forward.

Along with Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern he also welcomed the IRA's disclosure that it had resumed contact with the international decommissioning body headed by General John de Chastelain, for the first time since June.

Mr Blair said: "It is fair to say that the issues which need to be resolved are very clear and the differences are narrowing."

We have taken further steps forward towards securing the objective of securing a stable and peaceful Northern Ireland

Tony Blair
The statements came after more than 12 hours of talks on Thursday aimed at breaking the political stalemate.

The main sticking points remain the reform of policing; the destruction of terrorist weapons; and the scaling down of the British military presence.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams said he was disappointed more progress had not been made.

But Mr Blair said he was encouraged by the parties' "overwhelming support for the institutions being sustained and the [Good Friday] Agreement working" and "heartened by the climate of understanding".

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness with David Trimble
Sinn Fein: Disappointed with statement

He added: "I believe we have taken further steps forward towards securing the objective of securing a stable and peaceful Northern Ireland.

"We are confident we will reach an agreement in the not too distant future," he said.

The prime minister admitted that no concrete solution was in sight to resolve the outstanding issues but said he expected the dispute over the new police force to be resolved in June.

Mr Ahern said the talks had helped to establish a process in which the issues could be resolved over the next weeks and months.

"I look forward to the weeks ahead and to continuing the work we did today and continuing to work through the issues identified today.

"I share the view of the prime minister. I do not think any of them are insurmountable.

'Talks worthwhile'

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said that the talks had been worthwhile.

He said they had been "an opportunity to draw the threads together" of the intensive negotiations with the two governments over the last two months.

David Trimble:
David Trimble: "More work to be done"
"Some progress has been made. We are not there yet. There is significant work to be done. But there is now some hope that it will be done," he added.

Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party John Hume, said the discussions were intensive.

He described them as positive, but said issues including policing still need to be resolved.

Adams 'disappointed'

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the discussions were "useful" but said he was disappointed about the statement from the two governments.

"We certainly haven't comprehensively dealt with them today, neither did we think we would, but we certainly have got an understanding of how we can do that."

Mr Adams said they could have been resolved if there was the "political will" to do it, and that the British Government risked "frittering away the gains made in recent years".

He added: "I am prepared to trust David Trimble and his colleagues, but they need to know that Sinn Fein does not have the responsibility, the obligation or the desire to shepherd the IRA into disarming on UUP on British Government terms.

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See also:

08 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Talks to revive NI peace process
20 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Downing Street talks on NI
20 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
NI police recruitment set to begin
14 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Gaps remain in policing, says SDLP
23 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Recruits sought for NI police service
23 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Policing: An emotive issue
28 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Patten 'supports' NI Police Act
29 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Patten backing fuels police debate
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