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Former U.S. Senate majority leader George Mitchell will lead Northern Ireland peace talks next week and try to resolve the thorny issue of disarming the IRA and other paramilitary groups.

The selection of Mitchell, the Maine Democrat who has served as President Clinton's special envoy to Northern Ireland since leaving the Senate after 15 years, drew harsh criticism after British and Irish officials announced his appointment Thursday."What degree of impartiality can unionists expect from a Catholic Irish-American from the same stable as the Kennedys?" said Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Rev. Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, one of two main pro-British Protestant parties.

Canadian Gen. Jean de Chastelain, who joined Mitchell earlier this year in examining the arms issue, has been asked to lead negotiations on the future of relations between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Finland's former prime minister Harri Holkeri, the third member of Mitchell's commission, will also have a role.

The appointments were announced just before a joint news conference by Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring and Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew.

Earlier in Dublin, Irish Prime Minister John Bruton said "everything is now in place for a successful commencement of the talks."

Meanwhile, police and soldiers arrested four men in Northern Ireland Friday, and British media reported they are suspects in the deadly February bombing in London that ended an IRA cease-fire.

Scotland Yard said the four men were arrested in a raid by police, anti-terrorist officers and British soldiers in South Armagh near the border with Ireland.

Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist unit arrested a fifth man early Friday in London.

News reports said the four are suspects in the Feb. 9 bombing in an east London business district that killed two newspaper vendors, injured more than 30 people, and caused millions of dollars in damage.