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BBC NI security correspondent Brian Rowan:
"Loyalists have been drawing up a kind of contract in the last few weeks"
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Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 19:24 GMT
Hopes of end to violent feud

Leaders of rival loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland are set to meet within the next few days amid hopes of an end to a violent feud which has claimed seven lives.

The talks involve 14 leading figures in the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association and the rival Ulster Volunteer Force and its sister organisations the Red Hand Commando.

The dispute between the UDA/UFF and the UVF erupted in Belfast in July and has left about 600 people homeless in west and north Belfast.

Sources are suggesting that a joint statement from the three major loyalist groups could be released on Friday.

Last week the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando said talks were at an advanced stage and that they were hopeful of an early resolution to their differences.

Senior figures in loyalism - both political and paramilitary - are now predicting an imminent breakthrough.

Loyalist contract

The loyalist paramilitaries are expected to sign up to a type of contract aimed at ensuring that any problems which arise between the groups can be sorted out through discussion, instead of with guns.

Consensus points
Local representatives
Leadership meetings at any time
No support for dissidents
Check on political spokesman
People from the organisations are to be nominated in all areas to deal with problems which may arise on the ground.

There is to be provision for a joint meeting of the leaderships of the loyalist organisations to be convened at any time, and that such a meeting could be initiated by either side.

The contract is also believed to say that both organisations do not support dissident loyalist organisations. This refers mainly to the break-away Loyalist Volunteer Force.

The loyalists are also expected to say that they do not want loyalist political spokesman to become involved in verbal confrontations, of the type which characterised the height of the feud.

However, it is thought there are still a number of issues to be resolved.

The news came after a loyalist politician said in court that the feud was over.

I hope you will encourage your friends to make an announcement and then you might get bail

Lord Justice Nicholson

Frank McCoubrey, who represents the Shankill where the bloody feud erupted, was giving evidence in the High Court.

Mr McCoubrey, the deputy lord mayor of Belfast, is a member of the Ulster Democratic Party, which has links to the paramilitary UDA/UFF.

He was speaking on behalf of 31-year-old Thomas Potts, from Greenland Street, Belfast, who was applying for bail.

Mr Potts is accused of attempted murder during a clash between UFF and UVF factions on the Shankill Road in August.

Lord Justice Nicholson said he would adjourn the application until there was an official announcement the feud was over.

Outbreaks of violence

He told Potts: "I hope you will encourage your friends to make an announcement and then you might get bail."

The bloody feud erupted at a UDA-linked festival on the Shankill Road six months ago, and saw three men murdered.

There was a period of calm before four men were shot dead and one seriously wounded in the north of the city in October.

This dispute was thought to have been separate from the infighting in west Belfast as it involved local factions of the two loyalist organisations.

Security sources said it flared up following an argument in a Belfast pub.

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See also:

08 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Investigation into loyalist murder
06 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Family call for end to 'murder madness'
31 Oct 00 | Northern Ireland
Man dies after 'reprisal' shooting
30 Oct 00 | Northern Ireland
Killing 'not linked' to loyalist feud
30 Oct 00 | Northern Ireland
Talks call after Belfast murder
17 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Loyalist feud truce hopes
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