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Britain, Ireland Develop Plan for Norther Ireland Government

British and Irish leaders asked members of the region’s 20-month-old coalition government, set up after the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accords, to accept the agreement’s terms by Monday or risk sparking increased sectarian violence.

The blueprint calls for the militant Irish Republican Army to disarm — an issue at the core of the Northern Ireland government’s recent problems.

The IRA’s refusal to scrap its weapons led to the July 1 resignation of the government’s former leader David Trimble. Trimble also heads the pro-British Ulster Unionist Party.

But the plan also contains commitments from the British government to close specific army bases, offer amnesty for IRA members on the run and strengthen plans to reform the region’s mostly Protestant police force.

Such moves would satisfy demands from Sinn Fein, a party said to be the political arm of the IRA, and the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party.

President Bush called British and Irish leaders this morning to endorse the proposal.

“I believe the package is fair and that it charts the way forward in areas central to the Good Friday Agreement,” he said in a statement.

The plan emphasizes the importance of IRA disarmament in holding the government together, even though the group has thus far maintained it would not respond to explicit calls to lay its weapons down.

“The agreement can only succeed if all parts of it are implemented together,” the plan says. “In respect to the issue of putting arms beyond use, the two governments repeat their view that this is an indespensable part of implementing the Good Friday Agreement.”

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the IRA would need time to consider its next steps.

“I’m sure that, in its own time, the IRA and its own counsel will make up its own minds on these matters,” he said. “Sinn Fein is coming to this document critically, but in a constructive frame of mind.”

Trimble said his party would not offer a candidate to refill his post until the IRA began disarming — even though that could end this latest try at home rule.

British leaders are required by law to suspend or dissolve Northern Ireland’s government by Aug. 12 if it is not in complete working order.

“The ball is in the republicans’ court,” Trimble said. “If there is no decommissioning of their illegally-held weapons, then this plan becomes irrelevant.”