Ulster Freedom Fighters to stand down at midnight; Northern Ireland

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The flag of Ulster

The Loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) has announced that its paramilitary wing, the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), is to stand down all its "active service units" at midnight tonight, and their weapons are to be "put beyond use" but not decommissioned, and all military intelligence destroyed.

The announcement was made in a statement read out at a 1000-strong Remembrance Day parade in Belfast's Sandy Row district by Colin Halliday, a spokesman for the Ulster Political Research Group, which is associated with the UDA. He said that "The Ulster Defence Association believes that the war is over, and we are now in a new democratic dispensation that will lead to permanent political stability - but we believe the political parties and the political institutions are themselves still in a period of transition."

"In that context, the organisation intends to continue through a process of transformation that will ultimately achieve a Northern Ireland based on equality, justice and inclusivity where no sections of our people are left behind regardless of religion, politics or identity." He added that if loyalist rights or the union with Britain were threatened then the organisation would defend itself only by non-violent means. The statement also added that those who had joined the UDA's ranks for crime and self gain, including drug dealers, would be rooted out and that anyone who had information about crime should pass it on to the Police.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern welcomed the statement, describing it as "significant" and "a further step towards ending all paramilitarism in Northern Ireland".

During the Troubles, which ran from 1968 to 1998, the UDA/UFF is thought to have been responsible for over 400 deaths. The UDA's opponents, the Provisional IRA decommissioned its weapons in August-September 2005.