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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sworn Irish Enemies Meet to Talk of Peace

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Bitter foes launched peace talks Tuesday to try to heal a conflict that fueled 28 years of guerrilla war in British-ruled Northern Ireland.


For the first time since the island of Ireland was partitioned in 1921, leaders of Protestant unionist and Catholic nationalist groups sat at the same table to thrash out ways of living in peace.


British minister Paul Murphy said after the first of three sessions scheduled Tuesday that progress had been made.


"I think the first meeting was very successful. The atmosphere was businesslike and workmanlike. There were no unfriendly exchanges," he told reporters.


The talks took place a year to the day after IRA guerrillas bombed British military headquarters in the disputed province, killing a soldier and wounding 30 others.


Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army which halted hostilities last July, told arch-critics during the session that it wanted a "united Ireland" but that it was prepared to listen to what its opponents had to say.


"It is our view that Britain's policy is the root cause of the conflict in our country and therefore is the key matter which must be addressed in these negotiations," Sinn Fein official Martin McGuinness said in a talks submission released to the media.


Gary McMichael, leader of the Ulster Democratic Party, political arm of the outlawed pro-British Ulster Defense Association guerrillas, said 30 years of "republican aggression" had not succeeded in forcing Northern Ireland into an all-Ireland state.


"It is clear that the majority of people in Northern Ireland ... view Northern Ireland's continued membership of the union [with Britain] as the best way forward for the people as a whole," he said, according to a published submission.


Although rival guerrilla forces are maintaining truces, maverick groups lurk in the shadows.


In a reminder of the sort of violence that for long plagued the province, a parcel bomb was sent before the talks to a senior unionist negotiator, Jeffrey Donaldson, political sources said.


Donaldson, is currently on a high-level Ulster Unionist Party delegation visiting Washington.


Police said the device which was "crude but capable of exploding" was sent to town council offices at Hillsborough, on the outskirts of Belfast. It was defused and no one was hurt.


In Dublin, Ireland's embattled foreign minister Ray Burke resigned from parliament Tuesday, dealing a severe blow to Prime Minister Bertie Ahern's minority coalition government.