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5 FIRMS TO EXPAND IN N. IRELAND

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Hoping to sell international investors on a peaceful Northern Ireland, British Prime Minister John Major announced plans by five firms Wednesday to expand their operations in the province.

The five projects, worth about $97 million, are expected to bring hundreds of new jobs to the British-ruled province, which is heading into what promises to be its first peaceful Christmas in a quarter-century.All factions recognize, however, that peace must be intertwined with economic prosperity if it is to last. Unemployment in the province stands at 12.5 percent.

"I want people to see, with the minimum of delay, the benefits peace is bringing - to commerce, industry and everyday life," Major told delegates at an international business conference.

The government's Industrial Development Board, which provides generous but confidential subsidies to companies that locate here, organized the two-day conference in hopes of capitalizing on back-to-back truces by the IRA and pro-British "loyalist" groups in September and October.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown said Wednesday that American firms "will take full advantage of the dramatically improved climate" in Northern Ireland. The United States will hold its own Northern Ireland investment forum in April in Philadelphia.

The five projects are:

- a $50 million British Telecom office block in Belfast;

- a $20 million investment by DuPont in its Lycra plant in Lon-don-derry;

- $17 million in improvements to a forklift plant in Craigavon owned by NACCO Materials Handling;

- a new car-components production line at Ford's west Belfast plant worth $3 million;

- and a new $5.5 million factory in west Belfast for the Japanese electronics giant Fujitsu.