Loyalist ceasefire 'to start today'

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The Independent Online
A momentous step towards the ending of the Troubles in Northern Ireland is to take place this morning when loyalist paramilitary groups follow the example of the IRA and declare a ceasefire.

A news conference has been called for this morning in a loyalist area of Belfast by the Ulster Democratic Party and the Progressive Unionist Party, which are linked with, respectively, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force.

They are expected to say that a ceasefire has been agreed by the Combined Loyalist Military Command, the organisation which includes the UVF and the UDA. Although the loyalists may warn they will not disband and will remain vigilant against any 'sell-out' of their cause, the development will be greeted as a giant step forward.

Loyalist groups have for weeks been saying they accept the IRA's ceasefire is genuine and that loyalist reciprocation was only a matter of time.

The security forces have visibly relaxed since the IRA ceasefire, but a number of loyalist attacks have meant Catholic districts have remained tense. Loyalists have claimed approximately 900 lives during the Troubles, with almost all the victims being Catholic civilians.

A call for an 'open and honest' ceasefire came from Peter Robinson, the Democratic Unionist MP for east Belfast. He said it was important for loyalists to end their violence 'even if it is to be conditioned by being as permanent as the IRA ceasefire, as lasting while the British Government allows the people of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent to reign. . . Let us stop the violence and let us stop it now.'

Speculation about an impending ceasefire has increased since the Government allowed loyalist leaders into the Maze prison on Monday to meet representatives of UVF and UDA inmates.