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1994: Loyalists announce a ceasefire
Northern Ireland could be on the brink of peace after the three main loyalist paramilitary groups announced a ceasefire in Belfast.

The move comes after the IRA declared a similar truce seven weeks ago.

A statement by the Combined Loyalist Military Command, an umbrella group for the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association and the Red Hand Commando, was read by Gusty Spence, a convicted terrorist who was sentenced to 20 years in 1966 for killing a Catholic barman.

Mr Spence, 61, said that the command would ''universally cease all operational hostilities as from 12 midnight on Thursday 13 October 1994".

He added that the truce would be linked to the IRA's ceasefire.

'Closure of tragic chapter'

Loyalist leaders said that the price for their agreement to the ceasefire was full inclusion at the table for peace talks, with loyalist parties close to the paramilitaries allowed in alongside Sinn Fein.

The declaration was hailed by political leaders, ranging from Unionists to Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams.

Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, said the announcement marked the ''closure of a tragic chapter in our history''.

The Ulster Unionist MP, David Trimble, also welcomed the ceasefire, as did John Hume, leader of the nationalist SDLP party.

British Prime Minister John Major described the truce as "another very important part of the jigsaw falling into place".

He added:"What we now need to do is absorb what has happened and decide how we move forward.

"We will do that in our own time and in our own way."

The British Government believes talks between Northern Ireland officials and Sinn Fein could be under way by Christmas.

But Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has urged Downing Street to immediately agree to all-party talks, and make concessions to the Republican movement.

In a statement issued in Belfast, Mr Adams said: "The British Government is now the only agency with armed forces under its control which has not ceased its military activity. Mr Major must stop fumbling with this peace process.

"This is a unique and historic opportunity for peace which the British government must grasp."

Meanwhile, Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said a loyalist ceasefire was welcome and long overdue, adding that it must be unconditional.

The loyalist paramilitary organisations have killed more than 900 people in 25 years and more than 3,000 people have died on both sides.

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Gusty Spence
Gusty Spence said that the truce would be linked to the IRA's ceasefire

A joint ceasefire agreement by Northern Ireland Loyalists

In Context
Following the declaration, British officials met with Sinn Fein representatives for formal talks on December 9.

Despite concerted efforts for peace, the IRA broke its ceasefire two years later with the bombing of London's Docklands.

The IRA eventually announced a new ceasefire in July 1997 but negotiations and sporadic violence continued until the Good Friday peace agreement was signed in May 1998.

The problems of decommissioning persisted despite the IRA's more relaxed stance over time which resulted in the opening up of some of its arms dumps to international inspectors.

During talks at Leeds Castle in September 2004 the republicans took the issue one step further by agreeing to allow two churchmen - one Catholic and one Protestant - to witness the decommissioning of arms.

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