AUGUSTA (AP) – George Mitchell said Tuesday that hope for lasting peace is not lost in Northern Ireland despite setbacks in the process outlined in the Good Friday accord he brokered.

The former senator from Maine, speaking in the state House of Representatives chamber five years after the historic agreement was announced, acknowledged there have been bumps in the road since then to a stable peace in Northern Ireland.

“But people have seen the benefits of peace,” he told lawmakers and a full gallery of spectators.

Mitchell said that when he announced the accord, he also said lasting peace would take perseverance and hard work, that peace and stability were not guaranteed, and that there would be setbacks in the agreement’s implementation.

A four-party, power-sharing coalition that includes British Protestant and Irish Catholic blocs has fallen apart three times since its scheduled implementation in 1999 because of Protestants’ refusal to work indefinitely with Sinn Fein while the Irish Republican Army remains active.

Prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Bertie Ahern of Ireland plan to unveil a joint document designed to promote the peace effort.

Despite the setback, Mitchell said he is encouraged by a sharp decrease in sectarian violence in northern Ireland, noting that there were six deaths in all of 2002.

More than 3,600 lives have been lost since 1968 in the conflict over the British territory.

The Senate majority leader from 1989 to 1995 said there is now a recognition in Northern Ireland that democratic dialogue is a better way to resolve differences than violence.

Mitchell, who also led a committee chairing an international committee that recommended steps toward ending violence in the Middle East, said last week he did not see a role for himself in helping to rebuild Iraq.

An opponent of unilateral U.S. military action in Iraq prior to hostilities, Mitchell praised the Bush administration for its handling of the war but said long-term and expensive challenge of bringing democracy to that country lies ahead.



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