Loyalists keep peace lines open

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AN UNUSUALLY thoughtful statement from Northern Ireland's combined loyalist paramilitary organisations yesterday kept alive hopes for the peace process.

The loyalist groups, which include the UDA and UVF, who between them have taken some 600 lives, said that in the absence of any IRA ceasefire their own campaign of violence would not change.

Showing a rare detailed interest in political matters, the loyalists said they were analysing the Major-Reynolds joint declaration which was published earlier this week, and were seeking clarification of parts of it. They went on to suggest a forum for all loyalist political parties.

The statement was welcomed by the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, who said: 'I think there is a prospect of good emanating from it.'

While the loyalist reaction is clearly an interim response, both governments are likely to be encouraged by such a statement from groups whose public pronouncements most often take the form of threats to escalate violence. Violent loyalists have not yet accepted Ian Paisley's argument that the document is a betrayal of loyalism.

Although general loyalist reaction could well harden as the implications of the declaration are absorbed by the public, both London and Dublin will be pleased that as yet neither republican nor loyalist terrorists have responded with outright rejection. In London ministers are considering contingency plans for lowering the profile of soldiers in Ulster.

In Dublin yesterday the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, was given a standing ovation when he appeared in the Dail to give details of the 'peace forum' which the Irish government intends to establish. He said forum membership would be open to all 'democratically mandated political parties in Ireland', indicating Sinn Fein would be invited after an IRA ceasefire.

Mr Reynolds declared: 'Our aim must be to bring the most alienated sections of the Northern Ireland communities in from the cold. The forum would, in effect, provide a means to debate and devise appropriate alternative political strategies to violence. It could be a very healthy exercise in advance of resumed talks between all political parties, Unionist and nationalist.'

Although the forum will be open to Unionist parties, Mr Paisley and the Ulster Unionist leader, James Molyneaux, quickly made it clear their parties would take no part.

The joint declaration was welcomed yesterday by the Catholic primate of all-Ireland, Dr Cahal Daly who said there was a heavy responsibility on the republican movement to end its campaign of violence. He added they would not readily be forgiven if they were seen to be responsible for unreasonably blocking peace.

Army's low profile, page 4