28 Jun 2009

Northern Ireland loyalist paramilitaries dump weapons

7:40 am on 28 June 2009

Two loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland have announced they have scrapped their weapons

"The leadership of the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando today confirms it has completed the process of rendering ordnance totally and irreversibly beyond use," the paramilitary groups said in a statement.

Another loyalist group, the Ulster Defence Association, has confirmed it has begun to fully decommission arms.

The Ulster Volunteer Force killed more than 540 people during 30 years of conflict with pro-Irish nationalists, making it the most lethal of the province's loyalist groups.

The move to scrap the weapons, confirmed by the British and Irish governments, underscored commitment across the sectarian divide to ending violence but did not remove a threat from hardline splinter groups operating on both sides.

Northern Ireland has enjoyed relative peace since a 1998 deal ended the predominantly Catholic Irish Republican Army's military campaign to end British control of the province and unite the island of Ireland.

More than 3,600 people were killed in violence between the late 1960s and the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that paved the way for power-sharing.

Mainly Protestant military organisations that want to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom have been under pressure for years to start getting rid of arms following the IRA's decision to dispose of its weapons in 2005.

Efforts to consolidate peace were challenged in March when Republican splinter groups the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA killed two British soldiers and a policeman.

But strong condemnation of the attacks from all sides of the political spectrum and on both sides of the border ended up uniting much of the province behind the peace process.