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Tuesday, January 6, 1998 Published at 21:53 GMT


Shadow over loyalist ceasefire
image: [ The infamous H-blocks of the Maze prison ]
The infamous H-blocks of the Maze prison

Protestant inmates at the Maze prison near Belfast have refused to give their backing to the Northern Ireland peace process.

[ image: Trimble: An anxious visit]
Trimble: An anxious visit
David Trimble, the leader of the largest party in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionists, met with the members of the loyalist paramilitary groups the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Freedom Fighters but emerged with no reassurance over the future of the talks.

Before entering the Maze Prison, Mr Trimble said he hoped to assess the Loyalist mood about the present political situation.

"We also want to have look at the security aspects here, because we have serious problems with the situation here, particularly with regards to the recent murder [of Loyalist paramilitary, Billy Wright]... so there are a range of issues we want to look at here," he said.

The BBC's John Thorne at the Maze says some loyalists may now boycott the peace process 1'40"
The Ulster Unionist Party has no connections with loyalist paramilitary groups.

The leadership of the Ulster Democratic Party, which earlier met with prisoners, also failed to persuade prisoners to back the peace process.

[ image: McMichael:  Peace process crumbling]
McMichael: Peace process crumbling
Emerging from the meeting, Gary McMichael, the leader of the Ulster Democratic Party said: "I think the situation is worsening, it is becoming increasingly grave.

"The peace process is crumbling under our feet and the reason it's crumbling is not because of Loyalism; it's because of the Government's lopsided approach and its failure to recognise the dangers which present themselves."

Gary Mc Michael: 'The situation is worsening.' 1'03"
Mr McMichael also announced his intention to arrange a meeting with the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, to discuss as he put it, "the deep, grave implications," of the present situation.

It remains unclear whether representatives of the two main Protestant paramilitary groups will attend negotiations at Stormont Castle when they resume on Monday.

BBC Correspondent Jon Leyne says their absence would be a major blow to the peace process, putting more strain on the ceasefire and increasing the risk of a renewed cycle of violence in Northern Ireland.

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  Relevant Stories

28 Dec 97 | UK
The Maze - home to paramilitaries

06 Jan 98 | UK
Loyalist prisoners in urgent talks

05 Jan 98 | UK
Prisoners in charge at the Maze

05 Jan 98 | UK
Truce will hold, says Mowlam

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Progressive Unionist Party

Ulster Unionist Party

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