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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unionists, Sinn Fein Face Off at Talks

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Pro-British unionists branded republican Sinn Fein leaders "godfathers of terrorism" at their first face-to-face meeting in 75 years during Northern Ireland peace talks Tuesday.

The Ulster Unionist Party, or UUP, the main voice of the province's Protestant majority, called on Britain to eject Sinn Fein, the political wing of the nationalist Irish Republican Army, IRA, from the talks.

They said they expected a decision from the talks' sponsors, the British and Irish governments, on Wednesday. But parties across the sectarian divide believe Sinn Fein will not be expelled.

UUP leader David Trimble said there had been no direct communication with Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams during their 45-minute challenge to the republicans' peace credentials.

"We underlined the identity that exists between Sinn Fein and the IRA, and drew attention to the presence of the godfathers of terrorism, terrorism that has racked this province for the last 25 years," Trimble told reporters later.

Sinn Fein says it is a legal party which has no control over the arms of the outlawed IRA. Its leaders have consistently denied belonging to the guerrilla organization.

Britain admitted Sinn Fein to the conference table last week after the IRA called off a long war against British rule over Northern Ireland.

Unionists are furious that no IRA guns were surrendered before the republicans were allowed in.

"We have said to the [British] Secretary of State and called upon her to justify her decision to bring to the table of democracy those who have been responsible for murder and iniquitous crimes for which they have not paid their debt to society," said Trimble.

Trimble made it clear that even if, as widely expected, Sinn Fein were allowed to remain in the talks, his UUP would not join smaller hardline Protestant parties in boycotting the talks process.

Peace hopes were jolted last week by a bomb attack by renegade republicans which the UUP blamed on the IRA, despite the guerrillas' denial.

Britain and Ireland want all the province's feuding parties to move quickly into full-scale negotiations on ways of ending decades of tension about the future of British rule in the province.