INLA's summit offer to Loyalists: 'We'll talk peace with the UDA'

Danielle Ni Dhighe nidhighe at irsm.org
Sun Feb 17 18:11:56 MST 2002


Sunday Life
10 February 2002

INLA's summit offer to Loyalists: 'We'll talk peace with the UDA'
By Stephen Breen

A feared republican terror group last night said it would be prepared
to sit down with UDA warlords, in a bid to persuade them to end their
campaign of sectarian violence.

The shock statement was issued by the INLA leadership after they held
a special meeting to discuss the UFF's slaying of postman Daniel
McColgan, and its ongoing pipe bombing campaign.

And, in an exclusive interview with Sunday Life, the leadership of
the INLA insisted it would be happy to meet with "genuine loyalists"
in a bid to reach accommodation.

We sat down with the leadership of the INLA to quiz them on a wide
range of issues, including the Good Friday Agreement, recent arms
seizures, death threats to Protestants, decommissioning, and its
relationship with other republican terrorists.

It was the group's shock claim that it would "be willing" to meet
with loyalist terrorists that has sparked debate within the
organisation, and within the whole republican movement.

But an official spokesman for the INLA - the group responsible for
killing loyalist godfather Billy Wright in 1997 - questioned whether
the UDA's inner council was "interested" in peace.

The spokesman said: "We have to ask, is there actually an inner
council which has influence, and is it interested in creating the
conditions for peace? UDA commanders reign supreme in their own
areas, have built up their own little empires, and jealously guard
their own powerbase.

"But we know there are some loyalists out there who recognise
accommodation has to be reached.

"We've proposed a non-aggression pact in the past - an initiative
that would enable working-class communities to exist side by side,
with clearly defined ways of negotiating settlements without armed
groups intervening - and we'll talk to anyone on this issue."

The leadership of the INLA - a group ripped apart by internal feuds
over the years - also vowed never to decommission its weapons.

The spokesman added: "Unfortunately, there will be continuing
loyalist violence directed by bigots against nationalists in one form
or another, and that's why we won't decommission.

"Until the state of Northern Ireland goes, there will always be
violence, but we recognise the silence of all guns is an objective
all reasonable people would seek.

"As regards following the IRA's path, we don't agree politically with
Sinn Fein and we don't support the Agreement, but we do encourage
people to engage in and participate in politics.

"No amount of equipment or volunteers can ensure the defence of
working-class communities from random sectarian attacks, but we will
still ensure the community has some form of protection."

The leadership also refused to comment on reports its 1998 ceasefire
was about to collapse, after it secured a new batch of sophisticated
weapons from Eastern Europe.

"Contrary to reports, the landmine found in the New Lodge last month
didn't belong to any INLA unit, and our ceasefire remains firmly
intact," the spokesman added.

"It's our policy not to comment to anyone about what we have in terms
of resources, personnel or intelligence.

"But we view with increasing concern the escalating attacks on the
nationalist working-class by hate-filled loyalism.

"We would also warn that such attacks put an almost impossible strain
on republicans, and unless there is a halt - a republican response is
inevitable."

Although the INLA has been riddled with internal feuds over the
years, security sources believe the terror group is still "very
strong".

And UDA leaders insist it's the militant republican group -
responsible for killing 17 people at the Droppin' Well bar, in
Ballykelly, Co Londonderry, in 1982 - who pose one of the "biggest
threats" to their leading members.

Security sources believe the paramilitary organisation - ripped apart
by an internal feud in 1987 - has secured new and more sophisticated
weapons from a new source in Eastern Europe.

The group might not have the equipment or manpower of the IRA, but
security sources also believe the INLA's 1998 ceasefire could crumble
at any time.

The source said: "The UDA's ongoing pipe-bombing campaign, the
terrible situation in North Belfast and the murder of Daniel
McColgan, put a lot of pressure on the INLA.

"The rank and file were busting to hit back at the UDA, but the INLA
leadership, unlike in the past, is more centralised now and persuaded
its men to hold back.

"The group has a new leadership, and appears to be united and more
disciplined - with no sign of any dissent within its ranks.

"But if the UDA kills another person from the nationalist community,
a military response from the INLA is almost inevitable."

The INLA leadership last night emphatically denied claims it posed
a "major threat" to Ulster Protestants.

Reports last week claimed the militant republicans had issued threats
against Protestant workers, and residents at the heart of the Holy
Cross, from Glenbryn in North Belfast.

Security sources also insisted the paramilitary group was the "most
likely" of republican paramilitaries to hit back at the UDA,
following the McColgan murder.

But the organisation's leadership told Sunday Life they had never
issued threats against anyone and didn't pose a danger to people from
the loyalist community.

The leadership said: "Those who live in loyalist areas have nothing
to fear from the INLA.

"We pose no threat to the ordinary Protestants, and there haven't
been nor will be any threats to any section of Protestant workers
from the INLA.

"We've apologised for actions in the past, and these included
sectarian attacks that fell below the standards acceptable for a
republican army.

"This movement is firmly against any attacks on the unionist people -
as it is against attacks on the nationalist community.

"The people who said we had issued threats didn't have any proof, and
it's clear these people are following a particular agenda."

The leadership also denied claims the INLA was "working closely" with
mainstream and dissident republican groups.

They added: "We encourage good relationships with all fellow
republicans, but we don't poach members from any other group."


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