High-level talks over Belfast violence

REPUBLICANS and loyalists have been involved in high-level talks in a bid to end violence in north Belfast, it emerged last night.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly met Reverend Mervyn Gibson, chairman of the loyalist commission, a group that includes paramilitary representatives.

Sources close to Mr Kelly confirmed the meeting took place in an effort to persuade the loyalist Ulster Defence Association to stop attacking Catholic homes.

Details were disclosed as the security forces prepared for a controversial march on Saturday through the nationalist Ardoyne area.

Nationalist residents have objected strongly to the Apprentice Boys march, which takes place at a time when loyalist attacks have been escalating.

A republican source described the meeting as a positive move.

“The meeting lasted for about an hour and a half and they spoke about loyalist violence,” they said.

“It was very frank and the hope is they will meet again.

“It is a sign that progress is being made.”

Mr Gibson, a Presbyterian minister in east Belfast, had no comment to make about the meeting, which is believed to have taken place earlier this week.

The commission, set up last year to ease tensions among feuding loyalists, is made up of politicians, church leaders and paramilitary representatives.

Sinn Féin has accused the UDA of attempting to provoke sectarian violence ahead of Saturday’s parade.

One republican source said the terror group was planning to attack a nationalist festival taking place in Ardoyne.

Sinn Féin Belfast councillor Eoin O’Brion said: “Regrettably there has been a dramatic increase in attacks on the nationalist people in Ardoyne in the last number of days and there is a genuine fear that the UDA is attempting to wind up this situation in order to provoke a confrontation on Saturday.

“If the parade goes ahead, that might well serve the UDA’s interests,” Cllr O’Brion said.

Security sources have accused the loyalist group of firing shots from the Glenbryn area into nearby nationalist Alliance Ave.

Catholic homes also came under petrol and pipe bomb attack earlier this week.

Extra police have been drafted to the area to try to stem the tide of loyalist violence.

Leading politicians have met the commission, including Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid and First Minister David Trimble.

The meeting with Mr Kelly was described as positive by North Belfast Assembly member Billy Hutchinson, of the Progressive Unionist Party which has links to the Ulster Volunteer Force.

“Any moves to take the guns off the streets in north Belfast and prevent violence from any quarter has to be welcomed,” Mr Hutchinson said.

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