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Loyalist guns handover ‘on course’

All parts of the UDA organisation have agreed to complete the decommissioning process before the final deadline is reached in February.

That is the news to emerge today from the latest report of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD).

The commitments cover the four UDA Belfast “brigades” — the breakaway faction in south-east Antrim, and the part of the mainstream group under the leadership of Billy McFarland in north Antrim/Londonderry.

A two-page report by General John de Chastelain’s team also says the Commission believes it has “completed the decommissioning of UVF/RHC (Red Hand Commando) arms”.

The Commission reports that these groups decommissioned “substantial quantities of firearms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices”.

“The UVF and RHC representatives told us that some of their arms had been lost over the years through seizure by the security services, deterioration or damage or the death of those responsible for them,” the report reads.

“They said the arms decommissioned under our supervision in June comprised all that was under the control of both organisations.”

The report confirms that the mainstream UDA organisation began to put weapons beyond use in June, and that there have been two acts of decommissioning by the splinter faction in south-east Antrim.

On the mainstream UDA, the IICD reports: “Representatives of the UDA told us this was the first in a series of acts in which they would decommission the remainder of their arms before the expiration of the Commission’s mandate. They also informed us that the weapons decommissioned in that event (the June event) included some belonging to each of the five UDA brigades.”

The de Chastelain team confirmed that last week they met with the leaders of all five mainstream UDA brigades.

This newspaper reported that Billy McFarland attended that meeting, but that he and another representatives of the loyalist organisation in north Antrim/Londonderry also held separate talks with General de Chastelain and his colleagues, Andrew Sens and Tauno Nieminen.

“They told us that there was no difference of opinion among them on decommissioning and that each of them was committed to completing the process within the time remaining to the Commission,” said the IICD after its meeting with the inner council leadership of the UDA.

On the breakaway south-east Antrim faction, the Commission reports: “The group’s representatives have committed to decommission the remainder of their arms before the Commission’s mandate ends and we continue to urge them to do this as soon as possible.”

This is the report the Northern Ireland Office had been hoping for and had expected — a report that talks of “substantial practical progress”.

It means the decommissioning process will now continue to the final deadline of next February.

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward said: “Northern Ireland has been transformed over the past decade and the work of General de Chastelain and the IICD has helped society to move away from conflict and towards peace.

“The end is in sight for the decommissioning process.

A senior loyalist paramilitary leader told the Belfast Telegraph he wants the UDA to complete the decommissioning process before the end of this calendar year.

The source described the report as “straightforward” — and on commitments made by the UDA, he said: “It’s a time for integrity.

“There is no reason not to (complete decommissioning).

“I would hope it would be done before the end of this year.”

Belfast Telegraph