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Northern Ireland: Settlement Serves As An Example To Others

London, 4 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clrthern Ireland in trying to end three decades of sectarian bloodshed is a beacon of hope for other areas of conflict from the Middle East to the Balkans.

Clinton spoke last night on a visit to Northern Ireland where he urged Protestant and Catholic leaders to seize the opportunity to make further progress with their joint peace initiative.

Recent weeks have produced growing momentum behind the peace process in the British-ruled province where some 3,400 people have died in sectarian violence involving Catholic and Protestant extremists since the late 1960s.

Earlier, speaking in the capital, Belfast, Clinton had said that America's own experience shows that it is worth making the effort to turn away from bigotry and violence, rooted in race and religion.

"From Bosnia to the Middle East, from Rwanda to Kosovo, from the Indian sub-continent to the Aegean, people still hate each other over differences of race, tribe and religion . . . From here on in Northern Ireland, only the dividing line matters, the line between those who embrace peace, and those who would destroy it."

Clinton's visit follows diplomatic efforts to restore public confidence in the peace process after the bombing in the town of Omagh, west of Belfast last month, which killed 28 people, mostly women and children, and injured more than 200. It was the deadliest bombing in the 30-year sectarian conflict.

With his wife Hillary at his side, and accompanied by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Clinton walked the devastated streets of the small market town and spoke to 500 relatives of the victims. He talked privately with a 14-year-old girl blinded in the car bombing and unveiled a plaque to those who died. The Omagh bombing has prompted a wave of revulsion across Ireland, north and south, among Catholics and Protestants alike. Clinton praised the people for "restating their determination to walk the road of peace."

"Out of the unimaginably horrible agony of Omagh, the people said it is high time somebody told these people that we are through with hate, through with war, through with destruction. It will not work any more."

Responsibility for the 250-kg bomb was claimed by the self-styled "Real IRA", a tiny splinter group of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a mostly Catholic guerrilla group that has waged a long terrorist war aimed at ending British rule in northern Ireland.

The renegades quit the IRA as a protest when it declared a ceasefire 14 months ago, and allowed its political wing, Sinn Fein to join the peace talks. They regard the peace process as a betrayal as it will not lead directly to a united Ireland.

However, the group now finds itself isolated by the public anger. Significantly, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams condemned the Omagh bomb, strengthening hopes the mainstream republican movement genuinely wants a political settlement. Clinton praised Adams's statement this week that "violence must now be a thing of the past."

"Those words were music to ears across the world and they pave the way for the progress still to come. Thank you, Sir."

Adams also appeared to remove one of the major obstacles to peace by committing his party to efforts to disarm the IRA and also Protestant terror groups. Now, hopes are rising that Protestant leader David Trimble will agree to meet Adams next week for their first face-to-face talks, a move that could open the way for a new power-sharing assembly of Catholics and Protestants.