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Friday, May 15, 1998 Published at 21:09 GMT 22:09 UK

LVF calls truce to back No vote
image: [ The murder of the LVF leader Billy Wright was one of many threats to the peace process ]
The murder of the LVF leader Billy Wright was one of many threats to the peace process

The Loyalist Volunteer Force has called an unequivocal ceasefire.

BBC's Mark Devenport says the ceasefire could be to secure early release for LVF prisoners (1'14")
A spokesman for the breakaway loyalist terror group said the decision was taken to encourage people to vote No in Friday's Northern Ireland referendum.

The announcement came shortly before Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, both in Birmingham for the G8 summit, urged voters to say Yes to the Good Friday Agreement.

The LVF statement was delivered to journalists by a group of masked men.

They called the political agreement a "sell-out" but said they were setting down their arms "to create the proper climate in people's minds."

[ image: LVF graffiti on a wall in Northern Ireland]
LVF graffiti on a wall in Northern Ireland
The statement said: "Northern Ireland has come to a crucial part of its history. On the 22nd of May people will vote for a united Ireland through a vote Yes, or a vote No to remain British and hold on to everything Protestant people hold dear.

"That is our heritage, our faith and culture. People can only do that by voting No, but ultimately the decision has to be made through the people."

Later US President Bill Clinton said "We will stand with those who stand for peace, but I want to make it equally clear that anyone who reverts to violence, from whatever side in whatever fashion, will have no friends in America."

The UK Prime Minister Tony Blair reiterated his crusade for peace in the province.

"At the heart of the agreement is the belief that we only make progress if people give up violence for good," he said.

The LVF founder, Billy "King Rat" Wright, was assassinated inside the top-security Maze prison in December 1997.

The killing sparked a wave of slaughter by LVF activists and most of the recent killings of Catholics in Northern Ireland have been claimed by the group.

The group is the last of the loyalist paramilitaries to declare a ceasefire.

Ceasefire 'difficult to understand'

David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, said the ceasefire was difficult to understand but it was "good news".

He said: "One can only hope that as they say, they will live by the will of the people - that's the important thing.

"I think we should not try to analyse this or understand it but just accept that these people are no longer going to kill people."

The LVF last killed on March 4, when two friends, a Protestant and Catholic, were gunned down in a Catholic-owned pub in the religiously mixed village of nearby Poyntzpass.

The Loyalist Volunteers were formed to continue sectarian slayings of Catholics after Northern Ireland's two major pro-British paramilitary groups, the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Volunteer Force, called truces in October 1994.

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