The largest faction of the unionist paramilitary UDA has announced that its armed gangs -- who use the cover name of the ‘Ulster Freedom Fighters’ (UFF) -- will “stand down” from midnight tonight.
The statement from the main UDA leadership said all arms would be “put beyond use” (although not formally decommissioned) and called for “military intelligence” to be destroyed.
The group also sent out a general order to its members not to be involved in crime or criminality, and it said those who had joined its ranks for such purposes had to be rooted out.
The statement said: “The Ulster Defence Association is committed to achieving a society where violence and weaponry are ghosts of the past.”
The UDA said they were making the move because the “war is over and the struggle to maintain the Union is on a new and more complex battlefield”.
“The Ulster Defence Association is committed to achieving a society where violence and weaponry are ghosts of the past,” the statement said.
The UDA, the largest and most volatile of the unionist paramilitary groups, broke into two distinct groups in March this year. Today’s statement was issued by the mainstream UDA, which has continued to feud with a breakaway gang based in south-east Antrim.
Elements of the UDA worked in close collusion with British Crown forces throughout the conflict and were responsible for many of its most controversial killings, including the murder of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane.
26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern welcomed the statement, which he described as “significant”.
“The commitments to stand-down the UFF in its entirety and to put all weaponry beyond use are to be welcomed.
“The condemnation of crime and criminality is also important, including the recognition of the damage done to loyalist communities by those engaged in drug-dealing,” Mr Ahern said.
He called on the organisation to deliver on its commitments, including through engagement with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.
Over one million pounds of funding by the northern Executive for UDA-linked groups was blocked last month after the UDA failed to begin decommissioning its weapons.