- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

BELFAST The Ulster Defense Association, an outlawed paramilitary group known for slaying Catholics and selling drugs on its own Protestant turf, pledged to halt both activities yesterday in a surprise cease-fire declaration.
Britain, Ireland and moderate Catholics cautiously welcomed the move, which follows a murderous internal feud that left one UDA commander dead and supporters of its most notorious leader, Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, on the run.
In a statement read by political representative Tommy Kirkham, the six-person UDA command said the group's approximately 3,000 members "have begun to observe a 12-month period of military inactivity."
In practice, this means a commitment by the organization to stop throwing pipe bombs at Catholic-occupied homes and businesses and to stop shooting people presumed to be Catholic. Such attacks have claimed at least half a dozen lives since 2001, when Britain ruled that the UDA's 1994 cease-fire had been violated so often that it was no longer valid.
The UDA also pledged to resume negotiations with John de Chastelain, the retired Canadian general who since 1997 has been trying, with little success, to persuade the Irish Republican Army and outlawed Protestant gangs to abandon their hidden weapons stockpiles.
But the UDA emphasized it wouldn't surrender a single bullet until the IRA got rid of its own much bigger weapons collection. The IRA scrapped a few arms dumps in secret in October 2001 and April 2002 but retains a vast arsenal.
The UDA said that once IRA commanders "have decommissioned [weapons] fully, we will then fully respond."
Britain's governor for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, called the UDA statement "a positive move in the right direction but one that must result in a permanent end to paramilitary activity in all its aspects."
The British and Irish prime ministers, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, have been pressing the IRA to make fresh disarmament commitments as part of a deal to restore a joint Catholic-Protestant government in Northern Ireland.
The coalition, established under Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, fell apart in October over police charges that an IRA spy ring was operating within the government.
The IRA-linked party, Sinn Fein, dismissed the UDA statement as implausible and noted that in the past the group had attacked Catholics using cover names, such as the Red Hand Defenders and the Orange Volunteers.


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