Loyalists in arms plea to IRA

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LOYALIST PARAMILITARIES called on the leadership of the republican movement to take the initiative last night and clear the way for a start to decommissioning.

The Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando said the removal of all illegal war materials from society was an honourable objective.But they claimed that at this stage the right conditions did not exist for them to give the go-ahead for a handover.

With a review of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement due to begin next month, the deadlock over disarmament of IRA guns and explosives remains the only major obstacle delaying the formation of a power-sharing executive at the new Northern Ireland Assembly. David Trimble's Ulster Unionists are not prepared to go into government with republicans until the decommissioning process begins.

The UVF and RHC, with the Ulster Defence Association, the largest of the loyalist paramilitary organisations, called a ceasefire in October 1994, but only one group, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, has so far agreed to deliver up some guns. The UVF and RHC claimed they had worked in good faith with the head of the international body on decommissioning, General John de Chastelain. But republicans had not yet reciprocated.

A statement released in Belfast said: "We have asserted from the beginning of the current process that conditions must exist within which the process of decommissioning can occur. At this moment in time, such conditions do not exist and therefore the leadership of the UVF and RHC are unable to sanction any act of actual decommissioning." The organisations insisted their actions had been made in good faith. Their credentials were proven and they had spelt out unambiguously, both in public and private, the conditions needed to facilitate the process of arms removal.

The statement to BBC Northern Ireland added: "The responsibility lies with republicans to bring the necessary conditions into practice. To do so would require a complete end to republican tyranny in both its political and military mantles. Until such times, the onus lies with them." Next week the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, is to announce a decision on the IRA ceasefire after the Provisionals were linked with a series of killings, including one in Belfast three weeks ago.

Sinn Fein has insisted the ceasefire is still intact, but the Government is under pressure from some Unionist MPs to take action against the party president, Gerry Adams, and his chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, before the resumption of the talks process at Stormont. Last night Billy Hutchinson, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly whose Progressive Unionist Party is associated with the UVF, said there was "a lot of positivity" in the statement.