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Friday, April 24, 1998 Published at 22:11 GMT 23:11 UK

Loyalist paramilitaries back peace deal
image: [ Loyalist paramilitaries: boost for 'Yes' campaign ]
Loyalist paramilitaries: boost for 'Yes' campaign

Two of Northern Ireland's loyalist paramilitary groups have thrown their weight behind the province's peace settlement.

David Adams of the Ulster Democratic Party talks to the BBC about the latest developments
The endorsement of the peace blueprint by the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Freedom Fighters comes on the eve of the annual conference of the Ulster Democratic Party, which has strong links with the groups.

[ image: Gary McMichael: UDP head clinched support]
Gary McMichael: UDP head clinched support
UDP leader Gary McMichael is expected to call for a 'Yes' vote in the referendum on the peace settlement on May 22.

But while the groups back the plan, saying it reinforces the Union, opposition to the Good Friday deal has gained some ground.

Paramilitary backing

In a joint statement, the UDA and UFF said they had spent two weeks engaged in "detailed analysis" of the deal.

While they felt "uncomfortable" with some elements of the package, they would recommend it to their members.

Thirty years of Republican violence had failed to push the province into a united Ireland, they said, and they urged Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army to back the deal.

[ image: IRA inmates: meeting Sinn Fein]
IRA inmates: meeting Sinn Fein
But the statement concluded in an attack on the Democratic Unionists and UK Unionists, both of whom are opposed to the deal, saying the people of Northern Ireland should not be swayed by those who would seek a return to violence for "petty personal and political reasons".

No members of these two parties had "been carried in coffins to the graveyards or have filled the prisons throughout the past 30 years," the statement said.

Sinn Fein meets IRA prisoners

Sinn Fein and the IRA have yet to decide on whether they will back the peace deal and the party's chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, is sounding out IRA prisoners at the Maze Prison.

Their opinion is critical to the republican movement's stance on the settlement and Mr McLaughlin will take their judgment to the party's special conference next month.

No campaign gathers momentum

[ image: Baroness Thatcher: voiced concerns]
Baroness Thatcher: voiced concerns
The 'No' campaign appears to have opened on a second front in the wake of the DUP's strong attack on the Stormont agreement.

Former prime minister Baroness Thatcher, who survived the IRA Brighton bomb, has spoken out against the release of paramilitary prisoners.

It is also understood that some Tory MPs are threatening to break ranks with William Hague who has already given his full support to the settlement.

The party's Northern Ireland spokesman, Andrew MacKay, is understood to be telling members he will press the government on their fears.

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