Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Ulster ... the blueprint to end sectarian violence in Iraq

MLAs hold key talks with factions

A blueprint based in part on the Northern Ireland peace process is being considered by leaders of the Sunni and Shia factions in Iraq, it emerged today.

The series of principles of non-violence were drawn up during four days of discussions in Finland involving senior Northern Ireland politicians.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, former Progressive Unionist MLA Billy Hutchinson and Lord Alderdice of the Independent Monitoring Commission attended the talks at a secret location.

Former South African government minister Roelf Meyer also headed a delegation from his country at the meeting, which was attended by around 30 members of the Sunni and Shi'ite communities.

The agreement drawn up commits the Iraqi parties to consider the creation of a disarmament commission, and the formation of a group to deal with the legacy of Iraq's past.

Mr McGuinness, who co-chaired the sessions with Mr Meyer, said it had been made clear the Irish experience was not a prescription but that lessons from it could be learned, in particular that meaningful negotiations had to be inclusive of all parties.

And he insisted those involved from Iraq, whose identities have not been revealed, were significant figures.

Mr Donaldson said the road map to peace had adopted principles of democracy and non-violence used in the province. "There has been very useful discussion," he said.

"Agreement has been reached on the way forward between the parties and they are now going back to Iraq with these proposals.

"The agreement will be published this evening and it incorporates within it the George Mitchell principles of democracy and non-violence which have been lifted from the Northern Ireland process."

The conference, which began in Finland last Friday, also included former IRA hunger striker Leo Green and Quintin Oliver, who helped organise the Yes campaign in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

The talks were organised by a group called Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), run by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, an ex-arms inspector who is also currently acting as an advisor to the group headed by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley considering how to deal with Northern Ireland's past.

Mr Ahtisaari and South African Cyril Ramaphosa inspected IRA arms dumps on three occasions in 2000 and 2001.

CMI would not give details of the Iraq seminar or the participants, but sources in Northern Ireland confirmed the involvement of the local participants.

CMI executive director Kalle Liesinen said: "It's not a question of peace talks, but an attempt at directing people's thoughts to the future."

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