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Northern Ireland Talks Inconclusive - 2001-07-11

The British and Irish prime ministers have ended their third round of talks with the political leaders involved in Northern Ireland's peace process. The talks ended without any progress in breaking the deadlock over disarming paramilitaries, but they will resume again on Friday. British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he is not giving up. "I think that though obviously there are substantial areas of disagreement and difficulty, nonetheless, as far as we are concerned, we are going to work with complete determination and some hope that we can find a way through."

Mr. Blair says all parties in the talks have agreed there is no alternative to the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement. But progress in implementing the accord has been stalled by disputes over paramilitary disarmament, police and other reforms.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern says finding a solution to the disputes will not be easy. "We've spent three days hard at it," Mr. Ahern said. "Everybody knows the issues. Everybody knows the arguments. I wish the solutions were always as easy, but we'll work hard to find those and hopefully we can".

Northern Ireland is facing a political crisis following the resignation of the Protestant head of the power-sharing government in Belfast at the beginning of the month. David Trimble said he could no longer run the government as long as the Irish Republican Army had not disarmed as stipulated by the peace accord.

If he is not replaced or reinstated by mid-August, the British government will have to organize new elections or suspend home rule.

The talks, which took place at a secluded mansion in northern England, were dealt a blow on Tuesday when two Protestant groups: the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Freedom Fighters, said they no longer support the peace accord.

Prime Minister Blair says the talks will resume on Friday in a last-ditch effort to move the peace process forward and avert another crisis in Northern Ireland.