October 13, 1994
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- In an announcement unimaginable only a few months ago, pro-British Protestant paramilitaries declared a cease-fire Thursday, six weeks after the Irish Republican Army called a similar truce.
The cease-fire, scheduled to take effect at midnight, is expected to pave the way for talks on the future of Northern Ireland.
The paramilitaries announced that they will "universally cease all operational hostilities," apologized for the hundreds of deaths they caused, and said they will hold their fire as long as the IRA does.
"The sole responsibility for a return to war lies with them," the Combined Loyalist Military Command declared in a statement at a news conference in Glencairn, a run-down Protestant district of the city.
The command is an umbrella organization for the two main paramilitary groups committed to keeping Northern Ireland linked to Britain -- the Ulster Defense Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force.
The pro-British "loyalists" are responsible for more than a quarter of killings in Northern Ireland's 25 years of bloodshed. Only recently, they were predicting civil war.
"Let us firmly resolve to respect our differing views of freedom, culture and aspiration and never again permit our political circumstances to degenerate into bloody warfare," the command's statement said.
"We offer loved ones of innocent victims over the past 25 years abject and true remorse," the combined command said.
British Prime Minister John Major called the move "a remarkable step forward." The IRA announced an open-ended halt to its bomb-and-bullet campaign against British rule on Aug. 31. It made no apology for the killings.
The Protestant-based groups continued the violence after the IRA cease-fire, fearing Major had entered a secret deal with Sinn Fein, the IRA's political partner, that would undermine Northern Ireland's link with Britain.
However, loyalist spokesmen said they were reassured when Major paid a surprise visit to Belfast in mid-September and said that any political change would have to be approved by referendum.
Major has been skeptical of the IRA cease-fire, and demanded a three month pause before opening the talks, saying he wants a firmer pledge that they intend to halt the violence permanently. The clock has not yet begun.
Today's cease-fire announcement appeared to accelerate the prospect of talks.
The British government said it wanted to see whether it "really is permanent."
"If it is, then we shall want to consider how we can make sure that the political anxieties and concerns of these people are taken into account in the peace process,"
Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew told reporters.
In Dublin, Sinn Fein welcomed the decision by
"loyalist death squads to stop their attacks."
Sinn Fein renewed its calls for British troops to withdraw and for Major to start the constitutional talks.
The pro-British paramilitaries last announced a cease-fire in April 1991 as discussions between Northern Ireland's main political parties got under way.
That truce held for three months before loyalists struck back after the IRA killed several British soldiers and launched three bomb attacks on Protestant neighborhoods.
The IRA, rooted in [Roman] Catholic districts, has targeted British soldiers, police and a long list of so-called "legitimate targets" since 1970 in its bid to force Britain out of Northern Ireland.
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[ in America they are called mafia, in Ireland they are called IRA ..... JP ]