Associated Press

October 13, 1994

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- Pro-British Protestant paramilitaries announced a cease-fire Thursday, matching the Irish Republican Army's 6-week-old truce, and voicing "true remorse" for the murders of many Catholics.

The cease-fire paved the way for negotiations with IRA supporters and increased pressure on Britain to get constitutional talks started.

The Combined Loyalist Military Command declared it would "universally cease all operational hostilities" at midnight.

The combined command, embracing the outlawed Ulster Defense Force and Ulster Volunteer Force paramilitary groups, pledged to hold its fire as long as the IRA does.

The IRA called off its bomb and bullet campaign against British rule on Aug. 31.

"The sole responsibility for a return to war lies with them," the Protestant paramilitary statement said, read at a news conference by a former member.

The so-called "loyalists," who want to remain British, have been responsible for more than one-quarter of the nearly 3,200 killings in 25 years of sectarian violence.

The decision, made after consultations with jailed Protestant guerrillas, required loyalists to overcome suspicions that Britain had cut a secret deal with the IRA's political partner, Sinn Fein.

The paramilitary commanders also had to be persuaded that the IRA believed it could not win.

Britain has promised that any constitutional change will be put to a referendum in Northern Ireland, which has a pro-British majority.

In Montreal, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams welcomed the loyalist ceasefire, interpreting the move as a direct result of the IRA's "courageous leadership."

The loyalist cease-fire culminates an unprecedented cooperative political process by Britain and Ireland calculated to pressure the IRA into stopping its violence.

Last December, the British and Irish leaders, John Major and Albert Reynolds, agreed to hold constitutional talks involving all the main parties, including Sinn Fein, provided the IRA renounced violence permanently.

Ever since the IRA campaign ground to a halt last month and Sinn Fein pursued the offer, all eyes have been on the loyalists, watching them agonize over the same choice. It proved, ultimately, too awkward for them to go on fighting when their arch-enemy had quit without achieving their goal of a united Ireland.

William Flynn, chairman of Mutual of America Life Insurance Co. of New York and a supporter of increased American involvement in Northern Ireland, invited six members of fringe parties affiliated with the Protestant paramilitaries to visit New York and Washington beginning Oct. 24.

In Dublin, Reynolds said the IRA and the loyalist cease-fires were both genuine. He said he and Major should

by offering talks to Sinn Fein and Protestant extremists.

But Major remained cautious, refusing to hint when talks might start. He is still seeking a firmer pledge that the cease-fire is permanent.

The breadth and contrite tone of the Protestant paramilitaries' nine-paragraph declaration surprised many. It was read by Gusty Spence, 61, who founded the UVF in the 1960s and spent 17 years in jail for killing a Catholic barman.

For the first time in a quarter-century of failed peace initiatives, negotiations on Northern Ireland's future won't be overshadowed by bombing and assassinations.

However, the conundrum that has bedeviled Northern Ireland since its foundation in 1920 remains:

How to reconcile pro-Irish Catholics and pro-British Protestants.

The changed thinking of some loyalists underlined hopes of progress in 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 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.

The UVF, a comparatively small organization, predated IRA violence, killing its first Catholics in 1966.

The UDA evolved in 1971 out of Protestant vigilante groups formed against IRA attacks. It claims 10,000 members.