LVF begins decommissioning

Saturday 19 December 1998 08.04

Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam has said the LVF has decommissioned what she described as a significant amount of weapons. Dr Mowlam said she hoped others would follow as this would add momentum to the process.

Just hours after the key political structures were agreed at Stormont, the LVF became the first paramilitary group to hand over a consignment of weapons to the decommissioning body. Three sub machine guns, blast bombs and detonaters were transported from the group's stronghold at Portadown in County Armagh and were brought to East Belfast to a workshop where they were destructed under the supervision of the head of the decommissioning body General John de Chastelain.

The LVF has been on ceasefire since May, but is one of the most ruthless of the paramilitary groups. The disarmament has been undermined however, by the emergence of other loyalist splinter groups, one of which killed a Catholic man in north Belfast six weeks ago.

The weapons handover has been welcomed by both the North's First Minister David Trimble and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. However both Sinn Fein and the Loyalist Proressive Unionist Party say they believe the handover was merely an LVF tactic to ensure its prisoners qualify for early release. The group had promised to decomission a 'small but significant quanity of weapons before Christmas'.

Dr Mowlam also said it was significant that Gerry Adams had given a qualified welcome to the number and nature of the bodies that were agreed this morning.

General John de Chastelain has disclosed that the LVF offered to give up a more extensive range of arms and explosives if they were given more time. General de Chastelain told a news conference this afternoon that he declined the offer because it could involve moving weapons over the coming weekend.

He said the media was involved at this mornings event at the request of the LVF but they would not necessarily be present at future events. One of his associates Ambassador Don Johnson said that he was happy that after 15 months of being told there would be no decommissioning, arms had finally been given up.