Northern Ireland loyalist group lays down arms

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Ulster Defense Association (UDA), a paramilitary group in Northern Ireland that wants Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom, said today that it has rid itself of its weapons.

A statement by the group read, "The Ulster Defense Association was formed to defend our communities. We state quite clearly and categorically that this responsibility now rests with the government and its institutions where legitimacy resides."

UDA spokesperson Frankie Gallagher spoke at a press conference in Belfast, stating that the group regrets the approximately 400 people, primarily Catholic civilians, that they were responsible for the murder of between 1971 and 2001. He added, "But we are determined and are willing to play our full part in ensuring that tragedy of the last 40 years will never happen again."

The destruction of ammunition and explosives was verified by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, stating that other groups have a deadline of February 9 to destroy arms they may still hold, after which they may potentially face imprisonment.

Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister, Micheál Martin, said in a statement, "This is a statement of confidence in the political process and in the devolved institutions. Another obstacle to dialogue and partnership has been removed."

Irish President Mary McAleese said the group's choice was "a very positive milestone on the journey of peace."

The other main "loyalist" groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commandos (RHC), are reported to have destroyed their arms last June, with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) having destroyed their arms four years ago.

However, two republican splinter groups, the Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) and the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA), have refused to lay down their arms and have continued to undertake attacks including three murders in March of 2009.

The Real IRA attacked the Massereene Barracks in Antrim, County Antrim on March 7 and killed two British soldiers. Three days later, The Continuity IRA claimed responsibility for the murder of Police Service of Northern Ireland officer Stephen Carroll, who was shot by a sniper responding to a call.

There is also concern that the power-sharing government between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party may collapse because of disagreements between the parties on the issue of transferring policing and justice powers from London.