Loyalist terror groups urged to end all illegal activities

The North’s two largest loyalist paramilitary groups were tonight urged to declare a definitive end to criminal and paramilitary activity.

The North’s two largest loyalist paramilitary groups were tonight urged to declare a definitive end to criminal and paramilitary activity.

Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson issued the call to the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association after the UDA signalled in a Remembrance Day statement it wanted talks with the British government on its future.

In a statement read to around 800 loyalists at a Remembrance Day event on the outskirts of Belfast, including a colour party in full paramilitary attire, the UDA said it believed the Provisional IRA had been defeated.

The group also accused the British government of rebuffing at least three requests since June for meetings with Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain and attempts since January to have talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“How can the attention and pressure be redirected for loyalism to make the next move ?” the UDA’s statement said.

“We have always been willing to discuss the future. We wish to make our position absolutely clear that over a two-month period we have consulted our entire membership.

“On behalf of the Inner Council the message must go out today that at this time the UDA has a clear understanding on the future.

“We are open-minded and waiting on contact.”

While nationalist SDLP Assembly member Alex Attwood insisted the UDA must prove itself not just through word but deed, Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey and the DUP’s Mr Donaldson said it was a potentially significant statement.

Mr Donaldson, who is the MP for Lagan Valley, said: “We welcome the engagement within the UDA about taking a different direction.

“We want to encourage that debate because it is clear people in Northern Ireland really want peace to prevail and the paramilitaries to cease all of their activities.

“But let us be clear that includes criminal as well as terrorist activities.

“In terms of the loyalist paramilitary groups, we would urge the UDA and the UVF to follow on from the recent move made by the Loyalist Volunteer Force and make a definitive statement about their future intentions.

“This should include clarification about what they intend to do about weapons decommissioning as well as ending their criminal and terrorist activities.”

Last month the Loyalist Volunteer Force, the organisation formed by renegade loyalist Billy Wright, announced it was standing down following the completion of IRA disarmament in September.

The move also followed the ending of a feud between the group and the Ulster Volunteer Force out of which it split in 1996.

The bloody feud claimed four lives in Belfast during the summer.

Progressive Unionist leader David Ervine, whose party is linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando, also revealed that both groups have been engaged in an internal debate on their future.

The East Belfast Assembly member said the debate began months before the IRA declared in July it was ending its armed campaign.

In its last report to the British and Irish governments, ceasefire watchdog The Independent Monitoring Commission said the UDA was involved in violent and other serious crime and remained an active threat to the rule of law in the North.

Its October 19 report accused the organisation of dealing in drugs, carrying out robberies and sectarian petrol bomb attacks.

It also attributed the murder of Stephen Nelson who died in March from injuries sustained in a vicious assault outside a nightclub in Newtownabbey last year to the UDA.

In October, former UDA brigadier Jim Gray was gunned down outside his father’s home in east Belfast after being released on bail on money laundering charges.

Another senior figure, Andre Shoukri appeared before Belfast magistrates yesterday on money laundering, blackmail and intimidation charges.

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