31 March 2006

UVF extend talks on stand-down

Belfast Telegraph

By Brian Rowan
31 March 2006

The paramilitary debate on the future of the Ulster Volunteer Force is to be taken into Scotland and England in the next few weeks.

Loyalist leaders are extending their consultation process. Favoured options are thought be a "rolling stand-down" of the organisation, sources have indicated.

A final decision on the future of the UVF, and the closely-linked Red Hand Commando, is not expected for several months.

That means the UVF will not use this year's 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme to announce the outcome of its internal debate.

There had been speculation that an announcement would be linked to the July 1 anniversary.

The original UVF was formed in 1912 and, four years later, its members fought with the 36th (Ulster) Division at the Somme.

Informed sources have dismissed the speculation about an anniversary announcement. They say that suggestion is wrong.

At this stage of the consultation, a date has not been fixed for any announcement. The talking is continuing inside the two loyalist organisations.

Key meetings have still to happen - both inside and outside Northern Ireland.

That talking will take members of the loyalist paramilitary leaderships into Scotland and England in the near future.

The theme of the debate is "transformation", and after these latest discussions, "executive" or leadership decisions will be taken.

Complete disbandment has been ruled out, but there are suggestions of a "rolling stand-down" - that the UVF and Red Hand Commando will disappear in some sort of phased process.

There is nothing to suggest that arms decommissioning is imminent.

The debate is entering its most critical phase with the marching season just around the corner and with a great deal of uncertainty about the political future here.

The British and Irish governments are expected to reveal their proposals soon. But recent comments about an "inter-governmental approach" if an Executive is not restored at Stormont is causing considerable concern inside the loyalist paramilitary organisations.

The leader of the PUP, David Ervine, whose party has political links to the UVF and Red Hand Commando, said loyalists are clearly concerned about what he called "the joint-authority Plan B".

"Let's not go there," he said.

In recent days, loyalist concerns on this issue have been expressed in private contacts on both sides on the border.

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