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N. Ireland: UDA Announces Cease-Fire - 2003-02-22

There is cautious optimism in Northern Ireland, after the largest Protestant paramilitary group there, the Ulster Defense Association, announced a new 12-month cease-fire.

Recent bitter infighting within the UDA has resulted in several murders, and has caused a number of people to flee from the province.

Although some skeptics see this truce as a public relations exercise, the group pledges it will stop the bloodshed. The UDA says the move is designed to curb criminal racketeering and drug dealing associated with the group.

The ultimate goal of the cease-fire, according to Tommy Kirkham of the organization's political wing, the Ulster Political Research Group, is to resume the stalled disarmament talks. "This period will be monitored internally every three months to ensure that there is real and genuine political movement during and after the election of the new assembly in Northern Ireland," he said. "An agreed, acceptable and equitable final settlement will produce even greater peace and stability within the confines of our beloved Ulster."

Those elections for Northern Ireland's power-sharing assembly - set up under the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement - are provisionally set for May.

Since the suspension of the assembly, the peace process has come to a complete halt. This move by the UDA provides a glimmer of hope that all parties can again get back on the peace track.

While the UDA surrendered more than a dozen pipe bombs to authorities last week, its stated position on disarmament remains the same. The organization says it will only hand over more weapons once the Catholic Irish Republican Army does so first.

Britain's governor for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, welcomes this latest truce. He calls it a positive move in the right direction, but he stresses that for it to have any real impact, the Ulster Defense Association must put an end to all of its paramilitary activities, once and for all.