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North Ireland peace priest Alex Reid dies

Irish priest Alex Reid, who played a key role in brokering peace in Northern Ireland, has died aged 82, his Catholic order said.

Dublin: Irish priest Alex Reid, who played a key role in brokering peace in Northern Ireland, has died aged 82, his Catholic order said.

Reid acted as a go-between during Northern Ireland`s three decades of sectarian unrest known as the Troubles, secretly relaying messages from republican militants to politicians in the 1980s.

A photograph of him praying over the bloodied corpse of a British soldier, beaten and shot by a republican mob in Belfast in 1988, became one of the defining images of the Troubles.

The Redemptorist order of Catholic priests said Reid had died peacefully in a Dublin hospital yesterday morning.

"He will be especially remembered for his work in the Northern Ireland peace process," the order said in a statement.

In an early peace effort, Reid passed messages from Sinn Fein - the party that was then the political wing of the paramilitary Irish Republican Army (IRA) - to moderate republicans and contacts in the British and Irish governments.

After Northern Ireland`s Good Friday peace agreement was signed in 1998, Reid acted as an independent witness to the decommissioning of the IRA`s weapons arsenal.

In his later years the cleric was also involved in talks with Basque separatists seeking an independent homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

His funeral will be held in Belfast on Wednesday.

Reid was a close confidante of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, who yesterday described the late cleric as "the chaplain to the peace process".

"There would not be a peace process at this time without his diligent doggedness," Adams said.

Some 3,500 people were killed during the three decades of sectarian unrest between mainly Catholic republicans seeking a united Ireland, and Protestant unionists favouring continued union with Britain.

The 1998 peace agreement paved the way for power-sharing between the republicans and unionists and largely ended the violence, although sporadic unrest and bomb threats continue.

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