09 March 2006

UDA pledges to complete move away from violence


09/03/2006 - 14:47:23

The Ulster Defence Association today pledged to complete a planned transformation away from violence.

A statement issued by the inner council of the North’s biggest loyalist paramilitary organisation also denied reports that it was using a cover name to launch a fresh wave of sectarian attacks.

Fears that the grouping may be about to embark on a new campaign against Catholics heightened when a taxi passenger’s gun jammed after it was pointed at the driver in north Belfast at the weekend.

The attack was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, a pseudonym employed in the past by the UDA.

But the organisation rejected any link to the apparent murder bid.

Its statement said: “Within recent days the name of the so-called Red Hand Defenders has emerged once again.

“We wish to state categorically that there is no Red Hand Defenders and they do not exist.

“The individuals using this cover name are criminals who are motivated by self gain. Those who use that name were stood down and that is a matter of public record.”

The UDA has come under intense scrutiny following a police raid on a North Belfast pub where its members were believed to be in dress rehearsals for a paramilitary show of strength.

Seventeen men were arrested by the specialist unit that stormed the Alexandra Bar in the Tiger’s Bay district, including top loyalist Ihab Shoukri.

Eleven of them were later charged with helping to set up a meeting of the outlawed terrorist group, although Shoukri was released and fought off a police attempt to have him sent back to jail.

A judge ruled on Wednesday that he was not in breach of bale conditions imposed while he waits to go on trial for UDA membership by being in the pub when police swooped.

The paramilitary organisation’s statement insisted: “The UDA carry out the wishes of its entire membership.

“That membership is saying quite clearly that they are committed to a process of change and will not be deterred from that path.

“We are confident that our current policy will see us through any attempt to derail this process.

“None shall separate us.”

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