Anger at RUC chief's ceasefire 'offer' hint to IRA: Loyalists incensed by suggestion that security operations could be scaled-down in Ulster

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The Independent Online
A SUGGESTION by the Royal Ulster Constabulary that a decrease in IRA violence would result in a scaling down of army and police activity generated political controversy yesterday.

Ken Maginnis MP, the Ulster Unionist security spokesman, called for the resignation of the RUC's Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, saying the comments amounted to 'parleying and pandering to' the IRA.

The police chief, speaking on BBC radio yesterday, said that while it was naive to suggest that the Army could be removed from the streets, the level of overt patrolling could be curtailed if the IRA threat declined. If the RUC was 'no longer being rocketed and bombed on a daily basis', Sir Hugh said, it would not be necessary to have the same army cover.

He added: 'If we had a ceasefire in the next couple of months, and if that ceasefire were prolonged, you would see very quickly a change in the police and army patrolling situation, and one of the first things that would be seen would be a reduction in the level of army support and coverage.'

Sir Hugh also said he remained 'just optimistic' that there would be republican moves towards a reduction in violence.

His remarks directly address one of the most frequently made republican points concerning the possibility of an IRA ceasefire. There has been much speculation that a ceasefire, perhaps of three- months, may be in the offing, possibly next month. Republican sources have been signalling that they want assurances that a suspension of IRA violence would be matched by a reduction of police and troop levels in nationalist districts. Sir Hugh's comments, which represent a repetition of a similar point he made a month ago, were interpreted in many quarters yesterday as a clear message to the republicans.

Mr Maginnis declared: 'He (Sir Hugh) has given the IRA its biggest boost of the last 12 months by offering to tail down the level of army support in response to a lessening of IRA attacks on the RUC. The courageous men and women of that service will feel humiliated by such words.'

The killings have continued with a loyalist attack that killed a 34-year-old Roman Catholic printer in Lurgan, Co Down. A gunman from the Ulster Defence Association opened fire on men in the printing works, killing Martin Lestrange, a married man with two children. The UDA claimed that the works printed a republican publication, An Phoblacht, but this was denied by its owner and Sinn Fein.