Iraqis begin second round of negotiations in Finland

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Representatives of Iraq's main ethnic groups have begun a second round of negotiations in Finland to study successful negotiations in South Africa and Northern Ireland. The initial talks, in September last year, ended with the Helsinki I Agreement, which presented a series of recommendations aimed at bringing peace to Iraq.

The talks have been arranged largely by the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), a non-profit organisation founded in 2000 by then Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari. CMI has previously arranged a successful arrangement between Indonesia and rebels in the province of Aceh, ending 30 years of fighting with talks in which Ahtisaari was chairman. He is taking no role in the Iraqi negotiations.

"Senior leaders from all the major ethnic groups are represented," said a CMI spokesman. 36 Iraqis are attending the seminar, entitled "Divided Societies", as well as South African and Northren Irish representatives. The Iraqis include prominent Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds although the names of the participants, as well as the exact location and length of the event, have been kept secret. This mirrors last time, where the site, an isolated inn in the Southeast, was only revealed after the talks had ended. All previous African and Irish representatives have also returned, as well as several others.

Amongst those sent to explain their historic peace negotiations is Martin McGuinness, former Irish Republican Army commander, deputy leader of Sinn Fein and Northern Ireland's power-sharing government's senior Catholic. That government has been in place just under a year. Junior Irish government minister Jeffrey Donaldson, a Protestant lawmaker, is also present. Both participated in last year's discussions.

Last year's four-day event's Helsinki I Agreement contained deals to aim for power sharing and to stop using violence to settle political disputes. CMI spokesman Quintin Oliver said that "All the participants are engaged in intense discussions with a considerable and detailed review of the Helsinki I Agreement and principles in light of the changed circumstances (being discussed in the second round)," and that the new talks began on Friday and will probably continue at least until Sunday.

As well as CMI, organisation for both sets of talks was handled by the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts and the Institute for Global Leaders at Tufts University in Massachusetts.