Paramilitaries want peace to continue, says Trimble

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The Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble yesterday emerged from a meeting with imprisoned Protestant paramilitaries saying he believed they wanted the loyalist ceasefire to last.

His meeting with inmates at the Maze prison outside Belfast was something of a departure for a mainstream Unionist leader, since most have preferred to keep their distance from the violent loyalists.

The encounter was described as constructive and fruitful by a loyalist spokesman. The mood of loyalist prisoners appears to have mellowed considerably in a very short time, since less than three weeks ago some of them announced they were withdrawing their support for the peace process.

Among those Mr Trimble met were noted loyalist terrorists Johnny Adair, who once had charge of the Ulster Defence Association's most violent section, and Michael Stone, who shot three Catholics dead at a republican funeral in 1988.

Mr Trimble said: "I have left the meeting feeling very strongly that the prisoners here wish to see the ceasefires sustained and wish to see positive developments on the political front. I very much hope that the ceasefire will be sustained, but there is of course the ever-present worry that further acts of provocation by republicans could destabilise the situation.

"I feel that they do now desire to see the peace process continuing. They can see ... that from the point of view of continuing republican violence, the republicans have put themselves in a corner."

Meanwhile the RUC said no decision had yet been taken concerning a proposed Apprentice Boys of Derry march around the walls of Londonderry city today. Residents of the Catholic Bogside district have said they will hold a protest meeting but the local MP, SDLP leader John Hume, appealed to them to call it off.

The Apprentice Boys want 200 local members, including one band, to march along the route they were prevented from taking in August. Mr Hume said the march would take 20 to 25 minutes, with just five minutes to pass over the Bogside.