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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006, 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK
Faction 'back in UDA mainstream'
Riot police blocked the entrance to Westland Road
Loyalist and security sources have said they hope a potential feud within the UDA has been averted after a leading member of a breakaway faction left NI.

The police said they escorted a convoy of cars out of the Westland estate "as a number of people felt under threat".

A breakaway north Belfast UDA faction has released a statement saying it had met with the so-called inner council and agreed to elect its own leadership.

It said members were "glad to be back in the mainstream of the organisation".

Tensions have been high following a weekend stand-off between the factions.

Overnight on Thursday, up to 300 Ulster Defence Association supporters gathered in the Oldpark area of north Belfast.

Following this, it was believed Alan McClean and his family travelled to Dublin to catch a flight out of the country.

He is widely believed to have taken over the leadership of the UDA in north Belfast after Ihab and Andre Shoukri were expelled from the organisation last month.

Mr McClean, his wife and two sons, a younger brother of the Shoukris and a small number of supporters left their homes at about 0400 BST on Thursday to catch a flight out of the country.

'Bloodbath averted'

Pastor Brian Madden, who intervened in the dispute, said a potential bloodbath had been averted.

"I saw machine guns on people's shoulders, handguns," he said.

"I was taken into a house, talking to people who were pointing guns, swinging guns, they were very, very angry. I was very fearful and I pleaded with them to leave.

There was a convoy of cars that left Westland Road area in the middle of the night and police did accompany them as far as the Westlink
Chief Superintendent Wesley Wilson

"After about 20 minutes of heated discussion they started to drop the bullets out of the guns and he (Mr McClean) agreed that he would leave.

"I informed the inner council, who through this whole thing showed massive restraint, and the men on the streets went home."

Meanwhile, the PSNI said some of its officers were forced to draw their weapons in Ballysillan because of the serious situation.

Chief Superintendent Wesley Wilson said houses had been attacked in the Ballysillan and Tyndale areas earlier in the evening by crowds armed with cudgels and baseball bats.

"Our officers went into deal with that. At one stage our officers were between two mobs and actually had to draw weapons to protect themselves - luckily they didn't have to discharge the weapons," he said.

A large crowd gathered very quickly and officers were ordered to go to the Westland estate area, he said.

'Gathering information'

The officer said loyalist representatives had met nationalist community leaders "and reassured them that there was no threat to nationalist residents".

"There was a convoy of cars that left Westland Road area in the middle of the night and police did accompany them as far as the Westlink.

"This was to prevent any breach of the peace or attacks and was about preventing any loss of life.

"We realised they were people from the Westland Road area and wanted to leave the area and obviously felt under threat.

He said police were still gathering information about the occupants of the cars.

"If we can firm up on the intelligence, perhaps with this faction gone it might ease the situation - but I don't know that as yet."

A Sinn Fein spokeswoman said nationalist residents felt intimidated and some had left their homes in fear.

The loyalist protests follow the expulsion of leading north Belfast loyalists Ihab and Andre Shoukri.

Earlier this week, members of the UDA's so-called ruling council held talks with representatives of the breakaway faction.

It followed a weekend stand-off between the rival factions and a public show of strength by the UDA leadership.

Watch a report on last night's events

UDA supporters in street protest
03 Aug 06 |  Northern Ireland
UDA in talks with 'faction group'
31 Jul 06 |  Northern Ireland
UDA in talks on internal dispute
30 Jul 06 |  Northern Ireland
Why UDA expelled 'unlikely loyalists'
21 Jun 06 |  Northern Ireland

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