30 January 2006

Loyalists in talks on standing down

Belfast Telegraph

But imminent guns handover is ruled out

By David Gordon
30 January 2006

Cautiously optimistic signals were being given today on the prospects for loyalist paramilitary organisations announcing an end to their activities.

But speculation over an imminent move on decommissioning by the UDA was being strongly discounted by informed sources.

Internal discussions are known to be under way within both the UDA and UVF on their futures, in the light of moves by the IRA.

Dialogue has also being taking place between senior UDA representatives and both the British Government and General John de Chastelain's decommissioning body.

A source close to the Loyalist Commission, an umbrella group that involves both the UDA and UVF, today said progress is being made.

"Both sides are moving in the right direction - the UDA is probably moving faster than the UVF at present," he revealed.

"Things have changed on the ground in terms of criminality. Extortion has stopped in certain areas.

"There is also a different ethos on drugs, although that doesn't mean they are squeaky clean."

The source said he did not believe decommissioning is likely at present. It was reported in a Sunday newspaper that some loyalist arms could be handed over in six to eight weeks.

There has also been speculation that the UDA could "stand down" its so-called military wing, the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). The UDA used the UFF as a cover name for its murder campaign.

SDLP policing spokesman Alex Attwood today said: "The issue is not whether one faction steps down. The issue is - do all the organisations, the UDA, UVF and all the rest of them on the loyalist side, end all their activities, both criminal and paramilitary?"

Mr Attwood said efforts by the "best elements" in loyalism should be encouraged but there would be a "high dose of realism" over what would be achieved.

"The best elements in loyalism should keep doing what they are doing. All the other elements in loyalism need to be faced down," he added.

A leading member of the UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group today said that it is due to resume face-to-face discussions with Secretary of State Peter Hain in the near future.

Newtownabbey councillor Tommy Kirkham also stated: "Everybody's moving forward. Everybody is part of the jigsaw.

"A lot of the jigsaw is already in place. The loyalist part hasn't been put in place yet."

Mr Kirkham said the UDA is seeking investment in unionist areas, rather than anything for itself, and its demands are beginning to achieve results.

He stated that "confidence-building measures" are also needed for rank and file members.

"You can't have 35 years of conflict - members killed and members going to prison for long periods of time - without coming out the other end having gained something."

He added: "In a normal society, there would be no need for paramilitary activity. We see that in terms of years as opposed to weeks or months."

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