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Sinn Fein ready to declare 'war is over' in N. Ireland

LONDON -- Sinn Fein, political wing of the IRA, will declare "the war is over" in an 11th-hour bid to persuade pro-British Unionists to allow it to join Northern Ireland's new executive, a British newspaper said Sunday.

A public statement containing the phrase could be made within a week by Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, according to the Sunday Telegraph.But this would be forthcoming only if the Protestant Unionists first agreed to share power on the all-party executive before the Irish Republican Army hands in any weapons.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has set a deadline of June 30 to resolve the dispute over IRA arms that threatens to wreck the Northern Ireland peace process.

The Ulster Unionists, headed by the province's First Minister designate, David Trimble, refuse to accept the Catholic Sinn Fein onto the executive of Northern Ireland's assembly unless its IRA allies start handing in their arms.

Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, Mo Mowlam, said earlier she believed there would be a deal in the talks.

"There will be a deal. I can't believe that anybody would not realize the seriousness of the present situation. We'll make something," Mowlam told BBC radio Ulster.

Blair said there was no alternative to last year's agreement, which he described as the best hope for peace for years.

"There is, bluntly, no plan B," he said in an article contributed to the Sunday Mirror. "That's why I believe the next few days, running up to the Wednesday deadline, are so vital to peace.

"It's why I have said we are again staring into the abyss in Northern Ireland and must pull ourselves back," Blair said.

The Sunday Telegraph said the Sinn Fein peace offer was intended to build confidence among senior Ulster Unionists that the IRA is serious about handing in its weapons by May next year, as stipulated in the "Good Friday" peace accord.

If successful it could enable Trimble to persuade his divided party to begin power sharing before the IRA starts handing in its guns and bombs.

Neither McGuinness nor Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams have used the phrase "the war is over" before, preferring more circumspect language.

Writing in the Sunday Express, Trimble made clear that he is angry at Blair's proposal to allow Sinn Fein onto the executive before the IRA starts to "decommission" its guns.

"A promise of decommissioning would not carry credibility, for we are in the present sorry situation precisely because the commitments made by Sinn Fein have not been kept," he wrote. "What is needed now is action, not more words."