The main political parties in the North resumed negotiations yesterday in an attempt to broker a deal on three contentious issues before the end of the year.
Talks chairman Dr Richard Haass flew into Belfast yesterday morning from New York, following a brief Christmas break in the US, in the hope of concluding a deal on parades and dealing with the past before the end of the year.
Dr Haass has shelved further negotiations on the flags issue because of an absence of any common ground between the nationalist and unionist parties.
In a newspaper article, Dr Haass and the talks co-chair, Professor Meghan O'Sullivan, warned: "We are not certain we will succeed -- but we are certain that the consequences of either success or failure are so great that we must spare no effort to see that the talks end in consensus."
However, Unionists are concerned at one suggestion in the latest paper circulated to the parties by Dr Haass and Professor O'Sullivan. The paper suggests that a new body which would be set up to recover details about deaths during the Troubles could compel witnesses to co-operate.
Unionists are concerned that this provision could be manipulated to compel
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former police officers and British army intelligence officers to discuss top secret security matters.
"We would welcome the shining of a light into the murky worlds of the IRA, the UDA, the UVF and all the other terrorist groups which murdered most of the people who died in the conflict.
"But to create a legal instrument which could be exploited to try to uncover who provided the information to the security forces which ultimately undermined these groups is not acceptable," one senior Unionist Party figure said yesterday.
The DUP made it clear in the Assembly in November that that was a red line it would not cross and the party's delegates would be heavily criticised if they emerged with a deal which contained the potential for such a process.
Sinn Fein is expected to support the Haass proposal to compel potential witnesses to give evidence to a new body set up to probe the past, a position which is expected to lead to an impasse.