Belfast Telegraph

UVF members 'may be buying guns'

Members of a major loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland are considering buying guns only months after they were supposed to have disarmed, it has emerged.

A watchdog group blamed the leadership of the Ulster Volunteer Force for sanctioning the murder of a former supporter and for allowing members to gather intelligence on dissident republicans.

The Independent Monitoring Commission also said UVF elements had discussed buying weapons, and while the move may not be part of a wider plan, it advised government to watch closely for breaches in the group's ceasefire.

The findings of the 25th IMC report on paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland were overshadowed by the announcement that the watchdog is to be shut down by the British and Irish governments six years after they set it up to bolster confidence in the peace process.

The UVF was among the main paramilitary groups that announced ceasefires in the mid-1990s. In May 2007 it issued a statement renouncing violence and committing itself to becoming a civilian organisation. And in September 2009 it was announced that the group had decommissioned its weapons.

But the IMC has repeated its belief that UVF leaders earlier this year sanctioned the murder of former loyalist prisoner Bobby Moffett, who was shot dead in front of stunned shoppers on Belfast's Shankill Road.

His death was linked to internal loyalist tensions, but the IMC revealed the UVF was also gathering intelligence on republican dissidents who, unlike the mainstream Provisional IRA, remain actively involved in violence.

The IMC report considered paramilitary activity over the last six months.

It said of the UVF: "During the period under review we believe that there has been some gathering of intelligence about people believed to be dissident republicans and that this has been with the sanction of the leadership. Some members have discussed the acquisition of weapons, though this is without sanction and not part of any plan."

The IMC blamed the UVF for a number of so-called punishment attacks and the targeting of foreign nationals in Belfast with hoax bombs.

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