by Democrat reporter
REPUBLICANS AND NATIONALISTS have reacted with a mixture of cautious optimism and scepticism to the recent announcement by the Ulster Freedom Fighters/Ulster Defence Association that it has embarked on a “12-month period of military inactivity”.
The statement issued by the group made it clear that it would not be giving up any of its weaponry until republicans had “decomissioned fully”.
The loyalist group, which has been responsible for a long-standing campaign of sectarian terror campaign against Catholics throughout the six counties and deeply involved in illegal drug-running, has recently been torn apart by a bitter internal feud.
However, within days of the flight of supporters of jailed former UDA leader Johnny ‘mad dog’ Adair to Scotland following a night of violence on the Lower Shankill, sectarian attacks against nationalists intensified in a number of areas throughout the north.
Around the same time, police revealed that a raid made in connection with the loyalist feud had unearthed a computer disk containing up to 300 names and addresses of people in the greater Belfast area, intensifying already well-founded fears of a new round of targeted sectarian attacks.
Despite the giving a cautious welcome to the UDA/UFF announcement, republicans and nationalists remain to be convinced of a significant change of direction by the loyalist group.
Everybody would be pleased if the UDA had embarked on a “genuine cessation”, insisted Sinn Féin assembly member Gerry Kelly. Kelly’s north Belfast constituency has often born the brunt of loyalist violence, which has increased since the signing of the Good Friday deal.
“The empirical evidence has shown that when the UDA has in recent years announced ceasefires or no first strike polices, it still engages in attacks on vulnerable Catholic communities,” he said.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan also gave the move a qualified welcome. “A qualified ceasefire from a dubious group can only get a qualified welcome from a sceptical community,” he said. However, if it meant that lives were saved, people would welcome it, he insisted. The UDA/UFF announcement has been welcomed by the British government and loyalist and unionist politicians.
Northern Ireland secretary Paul Murphy described the announcement as a “positive move in the right direction” but added that it must result in a permanent end to all aspects of the group’s paramilitary activity.
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