27 April 2006

Future of Shoukris to be known soon

Belfast Telegraph

By Brian Rowan
26 April 2006

Senior figures in the Ulster Defence Association have met in Belfast with a leadership statement on the paramilitary future of the Shoukri brothers now expected within days.

According to one source, police monitored yesterday's meeting in the west of the city.

Five of the UDA's six "brigades" were represented.

The north Belfast leadership was excluded - a further indication of how Ihab Shoukri and his closest associates are being isolated before being removed from their leadership positions.

Significantly, the UDA in south-east Antrim was represented.

Its position in this paramilitary power struggle has not been clear.

The Shoukri brothers, Ihab and Andre, have already lost the support of four of the organisation's six so-called brigadiers - Jackie McDonald (south Belfast), Matt Kincaid (west Belfast), Billy McFarland (north Antrim/Londonderry) and the leader in east Belfast.

Their position will be significantly strengthened if supported by south-east Antrim.

The organisation's leader in that area did not attend yesterday's meeting, but he was represented.

Sources suggest the UDA leadership - its Inner Council - could issue a statement soon stating that it no longer recognises the leadership in north Belfast, where Ihab Shoukri replaced his brother Andre as brigadier.

This would signal the beginning of the end for the Shoukri brothers and other significant leadership figures in the north of the city.

Sources are stressing that the paramilitary group wants to remove the Shoukri leadership without using violence, and for that reason, it may take longer to achieve.

Another leadership meeting is expected within days.

Meanwhile, the UVF leadership has now briefed its members in Scotland and England as part of the internal debate on its future.

Senior figures in the UVF and Red Hand Commando leaderships travelled to Glasgow and returned to Belfast through Liverpool.

An announcement on the future of the groups is being delayed until after the November 24 deadline for a political deal here.

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