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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 September 2007, 08:07 GMT 09:07 UK
NI figures boost Iraq peace talks
The minarets of the al-Askari shrine were damaged in a sectarian bombing in June.
The al-Askari shrine was damaged in a sectarian bombing in June
Leaders of Iraq's Sunni and Shia factions are to consider a series of principles on non-violence after talks involving Northern Ireland politicians.

The discussions were held at a secret location in Finland over the weekend.

They were chaired by Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, and former South African government minister Roelf Meyer.

DUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson was also involved in the four days of discussions.

Mr Donaldson rejected any suggestion the talks had been manipulated by the US or British governments.

"This was a private initiative very much in the background, so I'm not in any way concerned that there's been manipulation here," he said.

"The Iraqis themselves were anxious that they should do this, that they should get help from South Africa and Northern Ireland and that there should be no involvement from the coalition governments."

Mr McGuinness said that while the situations in South Africa, Ireland and Iraq were different, there were also key lessons to be learned.

"The important lesson to learn is that if people are serious about bringing about peace in their country, that can only be done through an inclusive negotiating process," he said.

Factions

The seminar was attended by about 30 representatives of Iraq's warring Shia and Sunni Arab factions.

The faction leaders have agreed to consult further on a series of recommendations, labelled the Helsinki agreement.

The 12 points contain clear echoes of Senator George Mitchell's principles on non-violence and democracy which paved the way towards the Good Friday Agreement.

Aside from promising to resolve political differences peacefully, the agreement commits the Iraqi parties to consider the creation of a disarmament commission, and the formation of a group to deal with the legacy of Iraq's past.

Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness chaired the talks

They also seek an end to international and regional interference in Iraq's affairs.

The significance of this agreement will now depend on whether the principles drawn up in Finland make any difference on the ground once the Iraqi participants return home.

Besides Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and the Lagan Valley MP, other local participants included the former Stormont Assembly Speaker, Lord Alderdice, and the loyalist Billy Hutchinson.

The former IRA hunger striker and Sinn Fein official Leo Green took part, as did the public relations consultant Quintin Oliver who masterminded the Yes campaign during the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

South African participants also included the ANC leader Mac Maharaj.

The seminar has been organised by the Crisis Management Initiative, an organisation headed by the former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari who served as an independent inspector of IRA arms dumps.




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Northern Ireland politicians speaking about the talks



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