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Arms body confirms ‘major decommissioning by UVF’

By Brian Rowan

The international decommissioning body headed by General John de Chastelain has formally revealed details of what it is calling a “major decommissioning event” by the UVF and Red Hand Commando.

A statement issued by the General’s spokesman Aaro Suonio under embargo until this morning read: “The IICD can confirm it has witnessed a major decommissioning event involving arms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices belonging to the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando.

“The leaderships of both organisations have advised us that the weapons and material put beyond use in our presence include all the arms under their control.”

All eyes will now be on the planned August report by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning — watching to see if the general accepts that the two groups have indeed completed the decommissioning process.

In an earlier weekend statement, the IICD also confirmed that the commission had “witnessed a decommissioning event involving arms belonging to the UDA and the UFF”.

The statement read: “This is a significant move and we look forward to completing the process of putting all UDA/UFF arms beyond use at an early opportunity.”

That first act of decommissioning by the UDA happened on Tuesday June 16, and on Saturday its inner council leadership pledged: “This process will be completed within the previous notified timescale.”

A date has not been disclosed, but it is hoped it will be within this calendar year — and before the final deadline of February 2010.

The decommissioning acts by the UVF and Red Hand Commando are by far the most significant by loyalists.

On Saturday the leadership of the two organisations confirmed what this newspaper reported on June 19 — that all arms under its control had been decommissioned.

The paramilitary command staff said it had “completed the process of rendering ordnance totally and irreversibly beyond use”.

The UVF’s Shankill leader read that statement at a news event in the east Belfast Mission on the Newtownards Road.

Former Methodist President Harold Good — a witnesses to the IRA’s decommissioning four years ago — was there for Saturday’s announcement:

“Today marks a huge step forward in our peace process,” he said.

“As well as a clear sign from these organisations that their war is over, the removal of such large quantities of weapons and explosives will make Northern Ireland a safer and more confident place for us all.”

Progressive Unionist Party leader Dawn Purvis described it as a “truly momentous day in the history of progressive loyalism”.

“The decommissioning of all weapons by the UVF and Red Hand Commando shows that peaceful, stable, inclusive democracy is the way forward for our country.

“The credit for delivering lies with the UVF and Red Hand Commando,” she said.

Loyalist leaders John Graham and Winston Rea were key players in this move as was decommissioning interlocutor Billy Hutchinson, who Ms Purvis said had “helped to manage this process every step of the way”.

The focus will now switch to the UDA — and on what more it plans and when. General de Chastelain and his team will be back in Belfast next month.

Belfast Telegraph

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