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Sinn Fein Calls for Armistice Adams Hopes to End Armed Irish Conflict, Save Peace Process

By Marjorie Miller
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- LONDON

In a historic bid to end Northern Ireland’s armed conflict of three decades, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams called on the Irish Republican Army on Monday to give up its guns to save the Good Friday peace process.

Adams issued the call to party activists in Belfast as Sinn Fein negotiator Martin McGuinness delivered the message to Irish-American supporters in New York -- choreographed steps by the IRA’s political wing apparently designed to prepare their base for disarmament.

“We have put to the IRA the view that if it could make a groundbreaking move on the arms issue, this could save the peace process from collapse and transform the situation,” Adams said.

He called on the British government and Protestant political parties to respond with “generosity and vision” to what is clearly a difficult decision for the IRA. Without mentioning dissidents opposed to the peace process, Adams appealed to Irish republicans to remain united behind Sinn Fein and the IRA.

“It is a time for clear heads and brave hearts,” Adams said.

Northern Ireland, a British province, has been divided for decades between “unionists,” mostly Protestants, who favor continued association with Britain, and “republicans,” or Roman Catholics, who want to be part of Ireland.

British officials and Sinn Fein members said it was unlikely that Adams and McGuinness would have made the transatlantic announcements without prior agreement from the IRA to begin disarming. In 1997, when Adams and McGuinness declared that they had urged the gunmen to call a cease-fire, the IRA did so the next day.

Nonetheless, Protestant leaders responded to the announcement cautiously, aware of how many times the peace process has come apart since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday accord.

“We have been at pains to state that words are not enough -- we want to see action,” said Michael McGimpsey, a leading member of the pro-British Ulster Unionist Party. “However, it would be begrudging of me not to state that there are promising parts in this statement that may be heralding further steps.”