Northern Ireland Talks on Hold

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BELFAST: Three Protestant leaders have stormed out the Belfast talks on Northern Ireland's future, proclaiming disgust over a compromise on disarming the paramilitaries of both sides. While Unionist leaders want the IRA to hand their arms to international monitors before talks on wider issues start, the IRA wants to keep them until after a settlement is reached. Yesterday, a 12-page document released by the British and Irish governments attempted to reach a compromise, calling for both the IRA and pro-British paramilitary groups to disarm gradually during the negotiations. That compromise didn't satisfy the Protestant leaders, one of whom charged that the plan treated them "almost with contempt" by refusing to specify details. On the other side of the table, there was disdain. "This has been a very childish stunt by the Unionist parties, but it's not going to have the effect that they think it may have," said Seamus Mallon, who as deputy leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party represents most Catholics. TIME's London bureau chief Barry Hillenbrand agrees that the process is far from done. "There's a lot of posturing going on. But David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists and the heavyweight of the three, has already met with Tony Blair," he said. "This is a crisis point over a very emotional issue. But they'll all be back."