Extreme loyalist group ends `war'

Guns on Ulster's streets - but new moves towards peace
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ULSTER moved a step closer to lasting peace last night, with the announcement of an unequivocal ceasefire by the Loyalist Volunteer Force, the extremist terror group. It declared an "absolute, utter finish" to its campaign of violence that has dragged on since the Good Friday agreement, leading to the shooting of Catholics in sectarian killings.

The LVF declaration followed widespread calls for Sinn Fein or the IRA to make similar statements.

And after a day of violent clashes marked the end of the Protestant marching season, it also emerged that the Government had been in contact with the republican Irish National Liberation Army, which has not declared a ceasefire.

A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said: "We are aware of their concerns about the Good Friday agreement and the NIO does not rule out contact with the INLA."

The LVF had a reputation for hardline violence, personified by its former leader "King Rat" Billy Wright, who was murdered at the Maze prison last December.

There was speculation that the ceasefire was provoked by the group's exclusion from the process of accelerated prisoner releases announced by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam.

Earlier, loyalists and nationalists hurled bricks, bottles, and sectarian abuse at each other during the Apprentice Boys' Parade in Londonderry, despite an historic agreement between the two sides designed to prevent violence during the march.