Collusion fears following arms finds

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Two former British soldiers are among a group of loyalists who have appeared in court on weapons charges linked to the unionist paramilitary UVF.

Loyalists William Baker, his brother Robin Baker, Bryce Pounder and Noel Bambrick were arrested during last Friday’s raids in east Belfast.

Six guns, a large quantity of ammunition, two pipe bombs and two smoke grenades were uncovered at the home shared by the Bakers in the lower Newtownards Road area.

Bambrick was accused of possessing arms including a loaded gun. In separate searches at Pounder’s apartment, a pipe bomb, handgun, silencer and assorted ammunition was found.

Pounder is a former British ‘rifleman’ soldier based in Yorkshire, while Bambrick was previously a member of the British Army’s Royal Irish Regiment. Both have been accused of having knowledge of the devices and firearms uncovered.

All four are facing arms charges as well as membership of the UVF in east Belfast.

The alleged involvement of British military figures in the UVF and the possibility of ongoing collusion between British soldiers and loyalist murder gangs has raised concerns of a continuing ‘dirty war’ in Ireland.

The arrests came as other former British soldiers, known to have engaged in collusion with loyalists before 2006, look set to receive an amnesty for their atrocities under legislation currently making its way through parliament in London.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said the loyalist arms finds are “deeply concerning” and linked them to recent threats of violence by the loyalist gangs, including threats directed at Irish political leaders. He welcomed the arms seizures and called for “an immediate end to the existence of these groups.”

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