21 May 2006

UDA split decision?

Sunday Life

By Alan Murray
21 May 2006

The UDA is on the verge of a dangerous split after its ruling 'inner council' failed to meet last week.

The six-member body was expected to convene to confirm the outcome of a week-long investigation into allegations the north Belfast 'brigade' was continuing to run major criminal scams.

An announcement was expected on the future of brothers Andre and Ihab Shoukri, who run the UDA in the area.

Allegations of racketeering and claims that leading figures have pocketed tens of thousands of pounds from the terror group's funds were made by veteran UDA members and members of the Ulster Political Research Group, the organisation's political wing.

But it is understood churchmen and community workers based in one loyalist community countered the allegations, claiming the area was now largely free of crime compared to 18 months ago.

It was felt their evidence to the unprecedented hearings had cast doubt on allegations made against the north Belfast leadership.

But the failure of the inner council to meet last week to announce the outcome of the probe has raised concerns that the UDA is on the brink of a split.

Sources on the ground in the area say there was no contact between the inner council and the north Belfast brigade last week.

"There's been nothing formal. Nobody knows about a meeting of the inner council, there's been no contact, and, really, people aren't worrying," one local senior UDA figure said.

An attempt to force the removal of the current leadership in north Belfast would almost certainly provoke another internal feud and more bloodshed.

One man who supports the current leadership in the area said there was no serious likelihood of the rank-and-file membership rising up and expelling the north Belfast leadership.

"I don't see it happening, except in the newspapers," he said.

"If there's a meeting of the inner council next week and the north Belfast brigade isn't invited, then that probably means there's a split, but we won't have caused it.

"If the rest of the UDA wants to be led by south and east Belfast that's up to them, but we won't be going in that direction."

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