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Negotiations resume on Northern Ireland power-sharing

BELFAST -- Ten years after the Irish Republican Army's momentous cease-fire, negotiations resumed yesterday in hope of reviving a Catholic-Protestant administration, an elusive goal of Northern Ireland's hard-fought peace process.

But the Rev. Ian Paisley, the Protestant firebrand whose assent to power-sharing has become essential, said his Democratic Unionist Party won't even talk directly to Sinn Fein, much less cooperate with the IRA-linked party, until the IRA fully disarms and disbands.

''Do people who have arms and hold on to them -- can they be in the government of Northern Ireland? We say no," said Paisley, 78, an anti-Catholic minister and lifelong opponent of compromise.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who met separately with British and Irish officials at the Stormont government complex in east Belfast where the talks were held, said Paisley's invective may reflect ''prenegotiation nerves."

He recalled that Paisley's party boycotted the negotiations that produced the US-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998.

''This is a new experience for the DUP. When was the last time the DUP were in negotiation with anybody?" said Adams.

''Sinn Fein's up for doing a deal here, don't have any doubts about that," Adams added.

Britain and Ireland hope this week's talks will prepare all sides for painful decisions at a Sept. 16-18 negotiating session overseen by the British and Irish prime ministers, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, at Leeds Castle east of London.

Today's relatively peaceful Northern Ireland seems a world away from Sept. 1, 1994, when the British territory was waking up to its first day in a generation without the threat of IRA bombings and shootings.

The IRA cease-fire fell apart after 17 months, was restored in 1997, then helped inspire the Good Friday accord. Years of wrangling over the details of that complex deal have followed.

Power-sharing has been repeatedly undermined by Protestant refusal to work with Sinn Fein while the IRA remains armed and organized. The IRA, in turn, never came close to fulfilling another Good Friday goal: full disarmament by mid-2000.

In a November legislative election, voters dealt the process a shock by switching support from the moderates -- the Protestants of the Ulster Unionist Party, and the Catholics of the Social Democratic and Labor Party -- to the hard-liners.

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