Britain says the biggest Protestant paramilitary group in Northern Ireland has promised to end a wave a violence that has injured scores of policemen. The announcement followed a warning from Northern Ireland's police chief that violence was spinning out of control.
Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid says the Ulster Defense Association, UDA, has told him it will end the violence that has rocked Belfast this week.
Mr. Reid told a news conference he has warned the Protestant paramilitary group that if there is any more violence, he will declare the UDA to be in formal violation of its ceasefire. He said that could lead to various sanctions, including the possible re-arrest of UDA members who are free under a 1998 peace agreement.
The Ulster Defense Association and its Catholic rival, the Irish Republican Army, are listed as officially observing a ceasefire as part of the peace accord.
Mr. Reid spoke just hours after the Northern Ireland police chief Ronnie Flanagan blamed the UDA for two nights of rioting this week that had left more than 40 policemen injured.
Mr. Flanagan told British radio the tensions between Catholics and Protestants are explosive. "Now people keep talking about the underlying causes, and certainly the fear and mistrust and suspicion and outright sectarian hatred that I am witnessing are at levels that I frankly haven't seen for perhaps 20 to 30 years," he said.
Northern Ireland police chief Flanagan said he is worried about the safety of his officers. "Violence is far too often directed at them. Violence that one community would otherwise direct at the other community," he said. "And through our officers' courageous actions I have no doubt that lives are being saved on a nightly basis and people better realize that if this is not brought to an end, lives will be lost."
The violence coincides with Northern Ireland's worst political crisis since the 1998 peace agreement.
Leading Protestant politicians say the power-sharing government of the province will collapse within the next week if the Irish Republican Army does not begin disarmament.