Ulster peace pact hailed as way to conflict resolution


Belfast/London : Politicians marking the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement Thursday hailed the accord as an example for conflict resolution around the world.

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In a message sent from Washington, US Senator Edward Kennedy congratulated the people of Northern Ireland and their “courageous leaders” for their unwavering commitment to peace.

“Their success is an example to the world of what can be accomplished with courage and commitment,” he said.

Kennedy’s message was addressed to leaders attending a conference in Belfast Thursday to mark the peace anniversary.

The so-called Good Friday Agreement, brokered by US peace negotiator George Mitchell, among others, was signed in Belfast April 10, 1998.

It paved the way for a power-sharing administration between pro-British Protestant Unionists and pro-Irish Nationalists, led by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.

However, two of the main players, Britain’s ex-prime minister Tony Blair and former US president Bill Clinton, were unable to attend Thursday’s event.

Among those attending were Mitchell, Canadian General John de Chastelain, who oversaw the arms decommissioning process, Gerry Adams and Bertie Ahern, the outgoing leader (Taoiseach) of the Republic of Ireland.

Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said Thursday that his government was keen to draw on the experience of the Northern Ireland peace process to help resolve international conflicts.

“As the Northern Ireland experience demonstrates, addressing the underlying issues generating conflict takes enormous resolve, commitment and above all else tenacity.”

Ahern, who is due to travel to Kenya next week, said his government was implementing a conflict resolution initiative which placed resolution and mediation at the core of Irish foreign policy.

He said Ireland was also planning to set up an Academic Centre for Conflict Resolution. Kerala’s

Other politicians, including Blair, have suggested that the Northern Ireland lesson could be applied to conflicts ranging from ETA separatism in Spain to the Middle East, and more recently, even to Tibet.

Former US President Clinton said in a message to the conference that the Good Friday Accord had paved the way for political stability in Northern Ireland.

“I think that everybody who was part of the Agreement knows that they did it. They know in their bones that they struck a blow for a better future for their kids,” said Clinton.

Blair said the deal had inspired people across the world. “They see it as a real beacon of hope for other such conflicts, they think it is amazing that it’s happened.”

“I think it is a really great symbol of how the world changes so fast and can throw up the opportunity to settle conflicts that seemed irresolvable for decades, centuries even,” said Blair.

But in a sign that peace in Northern Ireland remains fragile, the province’s outgoing Protestant First Minister (head of regional government), Ian Paisley, boycotted the conference.

His deputy, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, also missed out on the event due to a visit to the US.