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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 May 2007, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
UVF meets decommissioning body
By Vincent Kearney
BBC Northern Ireland home affairs correspondent

UVF mural
The UVF has murdered more than 500 people
The UVF has met with General John de Chastelain's international arms body for the first time in almost four years.

The UVF announced two weeks ago that its war was over.

Veteran UVF member Gusty Spence said it had ended all training and intelligence gathering and stood down all its so-called active service units.

But the organisation said it was not decommissioning its weapons.

Instead, they are being "put beyond reach", which means they are under the control of senior UVF members, who the organisation says will ensure they are not used.

There was a broad welcome for the statement, which ended more than 40 years of violence by an organisation that killed more than 500 people.

But there was universal disappointment at its stance on weapons.

The government and local politicians urged the UVF leadership to match its words with actions and said it must follow in the footsteps of the IRA by putting its weapons beyond use, not simply out of reach.

General John de Chastelain was one of those to voice concern.

He was appointed ten years ago to oversee the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

UVF weapons
The UVF said it intended to hold onto its weapons

Since then, he has overseen four acts of decommissioning by the IRA, which it said put all of its weaponry beyond use, and the decommissioning of a small amount of guns by the LVF.

But the two largest loyalist groups, the UVF and the UDA, have not given up a single bullet.

Responding to the UVF statement declaring an end to its war, the general said he was encouraged by the proposal to end its involvement in paramilitarism and reject criminal activity.

However, he said he was concerned by the organisation's intention to deal with their weapons without the involvement of the commission and offered to meet UVF representatives to discuss the issue.

The organisation agreed and on Thursday Billy Hutchinson and a number of senior UVF members met the general and his other commission members in Belfast.

It's understood they explained in detail how their weapons are stored and insisted they can guarantee that they are really beyond reach and cannot be used again.

In a statement, the commission said: "The IICD has met with representatives of the UVF for a frank exchange of positions and will remain available to meet with the representatives to continue this dialogue."

The question is - was this simply a one-off meeting with the UVF setting out its position and refusing to budge?

Or is this the start of a process that will eventually lead to the organisation going a step further and putting its weapons beyond use?

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