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Loyalists warned to decommission weapons

Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland must begin the process of decommissioning their weapons, Secretary of State Shaun Woodward said today.

Earlier this year, Mr Woodward controversially extended the legislation that allows for the supervised decommissioning of paramilitary weapons to give loyalists a further opportunity to have their guns taken off the streets.

But today he repeated his warning that he would pull the plug on the special powers if they had not started the process by August.

In January, Mr Woodward got the backing of MPs to extend the work of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) in the hope that loyalists would follow the path taken by the Provisional IRA, which put its weapons beyond use in 2005.

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Mr Woodward said: "I made a very clear framework, in a very clear time frame.

"The IICD will be back here in a week or two's time.

"It remains very important that those figures within loyalism who have done so much to transform their communities don't lose sight of the priorities here.

"Decommissioning matters. It matters that it happens in the time scale we discussed."

He said removing weapons was part of the wider efforts to secure a normal society.

"Don't lose the opportunity," he said. "The IICD is here. Make progress."

The IICD has been in place since the 1990s when the emergence of the ceasefires by the various paramilitary groups kick-started the peace process.

The work of the international figures who make-up the commission has run in tandem with the political process since then.

But nationalists have been critical of the slow progress in persuading loyalist paramilitaries to agree to have their weapons destroyed, despite the successful establishment of an agreed power-sharing government at Stormont two years ago.

Mr Woodward is on record as saying he believes progress on loyalist decommissioning could be close at hand.

Asked if developments were now imminent, he said: "I don't know. The IICD must do its work.

"I am simply reminding people we are reaching the halfway mark of this period.

"Come early August we will be at the end of the six month period.

"The IICD must make a report to me telling whether there has been meaningful development and progress."

But he said there was no room for manoeuvre or compromise.

"There is no compromise," he said. "There is no scope for compromise.

"But I am confident that people will make that progress, but they must make it."

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