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IRA Hints At Early Truce, But Sets Price For Peace

THE Irish Republican Army has signaled to the British government that it is about to suspend its 25-year guerrilla war but will need concrete concessions before giving up violence for good.

Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, hinted in a statement Sunday at an early breakthrough toward peace in British-ruled Northern Ireland.

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The message, conveyed by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, left little doubt that the IRA would soon suspend its bloody campaign for a united Ireland in the hope of inducing London and Dublin to review a joint peace blueprint. He said the ``essential ingredients'' and ``necessary conditions'' for a settlement were falling into place. But he suggested Britain would have to improve its existing offer before securing a more lasting peace.

Irish premier Albert Reynolds gave the overture a markedly warmer reception than his peace partners in Britain, calling it a historic opportunity. Under December's Anglo-Irish peace formula, Sinn Fein was promised a role in multiparty peace talks on Northern Ireland if the IRA abandoned violence altogether.

AS an incentive, Britain stated it would not stand in the way of a united Ireland in the future if the province voted to break its bonds with London. This cut little ice with Sinn Fein, however, as the province's pro-British Protestants easily outnumber Catholics, many of whom aspire to Irish citizenship.

Sinn Fein gave Britain clues as to what might make the anticipated provisional cease-fire permanent.

``In any new situation, there is heavy onus on the British government to respond positively, both in terms of the demilitarization of the situation and in assisting the search for an agreed Ireland,'' the statement said.

In Sinn Fein's political lexicon, this means a reduction of the British military presence, a crackdown on Protestant violence, and a pledge to encourage the so-called loyalist community to look positively on a united Ireland.

Weight was added to Sinn Fein's optimistic statement by the co-signature on it of John Hume, the leader of the province's nationalist Social Democratic and Labor Party.

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But James Molyneaux of the Official Unionist Party implied concessions to nationalists could alienate the province's majority. ``It's quite disgusting to see ... Hume selling his soul to the devil and joining in a sordid attempt to blackmail the British, American, and Irish governments into giving the Armalite [rifle] supremacy over the ballot box,'' he said.

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