A Move Toward Peace In Ireland

It is a first in the 30 years of bloodshed in the region: Northern Ireland's most ruthless Protestant paramilitary group has disarmed.

In line with the Good Friday Peace Accord, the Loyalist Volunteer Force handed over its weapons Friday to an international commission and challenged its enemies in the Irish Republican Army to do the same.

The IRA and its allied Sinn Fein party dismissed in advance any disarmament by the Loyalist Volunteers as a cynical stunt that wouldn't influence their policy.

At the height of its terror campaign, the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) spread panic among Catholics with indiscriminate killings. The group's leader, Billy Wright, was one of the most feared men in the province.

Under police escort, LVF representatives carried an unknown number of illegal firearms, grenades, and detonators from the outlawed group's power base of Portadown, 30 miles west of Belfast, to the east Belfast headquarters of the commission headed by Gen. John de Chastelain of Canada.

The Loyalist Volunteers called a surprise cease-fire in May and in recent months had said they would start disarming if the IRA reciprocated.

In a brief statement, a Loyalist Volunteer Force spokesman said the group expected the IRA to hand in 10 times as many weapons in coming weeks. Otherwise, the statement said, the LVF would not repeat its gesture.

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