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Last Updated: Friday, 14 May, 2004, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Consultation on NI truth process
A consultation process on how best to deal with the past is beginning
A visit by the Northern Ireland secretary to South Africa will coincide with the beginning of a consultation process on how best to deal with the province's violent past.

Paul Murphy is to meet senior figures in Capetown and Pretoria to hear their views on the country's Truth and Reconciliation process.

Victims Minister Angela Smith is also expected to be fully involved in the process which begins at the end of May.

The steps to be taken over the next few weeks will be the first in a very long process.

Mr Murphy is expected to tell parliament how the government intends to handle the consultation process shortly before he travels to South Africa.

That statement is expected in the final week of this month.

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair and Mr Murphy signalled their intention to consult on the past, and more specifically how best to deal with the hundreds of unsolved killings, several weeks ago.

Mr Murphy is to meet senior figures in Capetown and Pretoria

The first steps will be two phases of consultation in the early summer and then in the autumn - in which the nuts and bolts of the process will be discussed.

This will include who is best equipped to take it forward - people from Northern Ireland, others with wider international experience, or both.

Among the hugely sensitive matters to be discussed are: the needs of the families of victims, remembrance, compensation, the closing of the book, and the question of amnesty.

If there is to be a table of explanation of some description, who sits at it and on what basis will also need to be addressed.

Mr Murphy is expected to spend about four days in South Africa in late May-early June.

He will visit the Centre of Conflict Resolution in Capetown, and is expected to meet former President de Klerk, people involved in the truth and reconcilliation process, Cyril Ramaphosa, leading members of the ANC, government ministers and academics.

A separate meeting with Archbishop Tutu is being planned for London.

Politicians are not expected to be involved in the first phase of the consultation.

Last June, the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, suggested that a type of truth and reconciliation process may be needed to bring closure to the past.

At that time, more than 1,800 killings, half of those carried out during 30 years of the Troubles in the province, remained unsolved.

Mr Orde said the perpetrators of hundreds of unsolved murders were unlikely to be brought to justice.

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