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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 23:05 GMT
UFF condemns death threats
The UFF said workers had
The UFF said workers had "nothing to fear"
The loyalist paramilitary Ulster Freedom Fighters has said it condemns "unreservedly" death threats issued against Catholic schoolteachers and postal workers.

In a statement on Tuesday night, the UFF leadership said it was ordering the Red Hand Defenders (RHD), which issued the threats, to stand down within 14 days.

Postal staff have voted to stay away from work indefinitely until the threat against them is lifted.

The RHD is a cover name used in the past by both the UDA/UFF and the Loyalist Volunteer Force.

At the weekend, the UDA/UFF murdered 20-year-old Catholic postman Daniel McColgan in County Antrim.

Afterwards, the Red Hand Defenders issued a statement saying it considered all postal workers to be "legitimate targets." However, the UDA/UFF said it was distancing itself from the threats.

'Welcome development'

In Tuesday's statement, the UFF said there would be "no more warnings" to the Red Hand Defenders which it accused of "damaging the loyalist cause and the reputation of the UFF".

It added that teachers and postal staff had "nothing to fear" from the UFF.

BBC NI chief security correspondent Brian Rowan said many would find the UFF statement "hard to believe given the evidence that exists that the UFF has been hiding behind the cover of the Red Hand Defenders name".

However, he said the condemnation of the threats would be seen as a "welcome development."

On Tuesday evening, postal workers unions met in the aftermath of the threats and the murder of 20-year-old Mr McColgan on Saturday.

Dr John Reid
Dr John Reid: Met union leaders

Senior staff from Consignia, the firm which owns Royal Mail, also held a meeting with Security Minister Jane Kennedy and Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan.

Sir John Semple, the director of Northern Ireland Affairs for Consignia, said the company understood how staff felt but did not want to see the public inconvenienced.

In a statement, Royal Mail said it understood the anxiety of its employees "both as a result of Danny's murder and in light of the threat issued against them".

The Communication Workers Union will meet Mr McQuillan on Wednesday to hear his assessment of the threat.

General stoppage

The threat to postal workers followed a similar threat made to teachers and workers at Catholic schools in north Belfast last Friday.

Postal services across Northern Ireland were disrupted on Tuesday as many workers attended the funeral of Mr McColgan in Newtownabbey.

Many workers across the province, as well as schools in north Belfast, observed a two-minute silence at midday during the funeral.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) said the silence was also in memory of all workers murdered during the past 30 years.

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencers said it had received a call from republican paramilitaries threatening its Protestant staff.

A delivery depot at Mallusk in Newtownabbey received the threat from the Irish National Liberation Army in a recorded telephone message on Monday evening.

Alan McQuillan believes paramilitaries were involved
Alan McQuillan: Held talks about threat

Marks & Spencer said it was currently reviewing its own security procedures at the centre and the police said they were increasing the number of patrols in the area.

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid met the ICTU on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the threats.

Afterwards, trade union leaders said they had been overwhelmed by support from the government and the private sector for their demonstrations later this week against sectarianism.

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Jim Rodgers, called for the threats against Protestant and Catholic workers to be withdrawn.

The ICTU has called for a general half-day stoppage on Friday in protest at continuing attacks on workers.

Rallies are due to be held around the province - the largest at Belfast City Hall on Friday afternoon.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kevin Connolly
"Another family and friends united in grief"
See also:

15 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Republicans threaten M&S workers
14 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Security call after postman murder
14 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
UDA godfathers 'directing murders'
12 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
UDA admits postal worker's killing
12 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Ahern demands action over killing
12 Jan 02 | Education
Dissidents threaten Catholic teachers
06 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Arrests in teenager's murder case
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