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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 October 2005, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Loyalists 'must follow' IRA move
Loyalist mural Sandy Row
Loyalists are being urged to follow the IRA move on arms
Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey has urged loyalist paramilitaries to re-engage with the body overseeing the decommissioning process.

Sir Reg said loyalists should respond to the IRA's latest disarmament move.

He also said mainstream unionists could not be absolved of responsibility for some people being drawn into the ranks of loyalist paramilitaries.

Sir Reg was speaking to the BBC as the party holds its first annual conference since he became leader.

Speaking to the BBC's Inside Politics programme before the conference, he said: "Loyalists should engage with the decommissioning body.

"I think a lot of them now recognise that things have moved on - times have changed.

"It's not possible to sustain their current position and they did say over the years that in the circumstances where the IRA were clearly moving off the field, they would respond to that positively.

"I think the time has come to make that response."

Last month, General de Chastelain, the head of the arms decommissioning body, said the IRA had now put all its arms beyond use.

Sir Reg Empey
Sir Reg will address his party conference as leader

The general said he was satisfied the IRA had given up all its weapons, and said he hoped loyalists would as well.

Loyalists are said to have an "on-off" relationship with the general.

The two major loyalist paramilitary groups are the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association.

A number of guns belonging to the Loyalist Volunteer Force were destroyed in 1998 in a token gesture of decommissioning, but no further arms have been handed over from any of the loyalist groups.

At the party conference, Lord Rogan has been re-elected as UUP president.

He defeated the former South Belfast MP Martin Smyth by 309 votes to 118 votes.

The UUP also elected a new team of party officers.

The successful candidates were Basil McCrea, May Steele, the former MLA Joan Carson and the Young Unionists Peter Bowles and Kenny Donaldson.

The former Royal Irish Regiment officer, Colonel Tim Collins, is to speak at the conference about the disbandment of the regiment's home battalions later.


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