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Blair, Ahern Unveil Plan to Revive N. Irish Peace Process

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern published Wednesday their proposals to restore the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland although hopes for the political parties there to reach a deal on it were slim due to the row over photo evidence of decommissioning.

The 23-page plan offered a detailed step-by-step guide for reviving power-sharing, the central goal of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, seeking the Irish Republican Army (IRA)'s full disarmament by the end of this month, the convening of the Northern Irish Assembly in January.

Progress to revive Northern Ireland peace process has been "remarkable but is not yet complete," Blair told a news conference also attended by Ahern in Belfast, the province's capital city.

"I think there is an inevitability about this process which is locked in. I can't see this process going backward but I do know that it's going to require extra effort to finish the journey," said Blair.

"Having come this far and having done this much -- I may be weary as a traveler but I'm not downhearted," he added.

Blair insisted that Sinn Fein leaders had already agreed that the IRA would fully disarm by Christmas. And Ahern said he expected further movement from the IRA soon.

"We are not quite at that point of total success. Our work must therefore continue to secure agreement and closure and what, by any standards, is a huge, impressive, indeed a landmark package," said Ahern.

However, Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, refused Tuesday the main Protestant party Democratic Unionists (DUP)'s demand for photographic evidence of the IRA decommissioning, claiming that the IRA would not be humiliated.

Earlier Wednesday, DUP leader Ian Paisley confirmed it was not signing up any deal to restore the self-rule power-sharing government because of the row over photographs of IRA decommissioning.

There have been intensive negotiations between the two governments and the political parties in Northern Ireland over the past few weeks, focusing on such issues as decommissioning, demilitarization, policing and future devolved institutions.

However, with neither side ready to back down, the chances of securing a peace deal appear to be slim, local analysts say.

It is believed the IRA was prepared to have Protestant and Catholic clergy witness the destruction of weapons, but regards a photograph as a step too far.

Northern Ireland's political institutions have been suspended since October 2002 amid claims of IRA intelligence gathering at the Northern Ireland office.

Northern Ireland has been plagued by three decades of political and sectarian violence between Protestants committed to keeping the union with Britain and Catholics who want to end it and unite with the Irish Republic.

(Xinhua News Agency December 9, 2004)

British Minister Says New N. Irish Peace Deal May Be 'Weeks Away'
New Talks Open to Break N.Irish Impasse
New N.Ireland Deadlock as IRA Arms Move Rebuffed
IRA to Break off Contact with Disarmament Group
Masked Gunmen Mark N.Ireland Protestant Anniversary
IRA Says It Takes Historic Step to Disarm
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