Ireland's prime minister appeals to Protestant guerrillas to join cease-fire

September 04, 1994|By New York Times News Service

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Prime Minister Albert Reynolds of Ireland said yesterday that he was pressing behind-the-scenes contacts with Northern Ireland's outlawed Protestant guerrillas to persuade them to join the cease-fire declared three days ago by the rival Irish Republican Army.

With the specter of Protestant violence still hanging over the uneasy truce, Mr. Reynolds, the political leader of mostly Roman Catholic Ireland, said he wanted to reassure even extremist Protestant factions here that they had nothing to fear by joining the IRA in giving up violence to pursue peace talks.

"I think it's a question of convincing them there hasn't been an underhanded deal," Mr. Reynolds said.

He was referring to fears among the Protestant majority of Northern Ireland that London had secretly compromised the province's future as part of Britain in return for the IRA agreement to forswear violence.

Protestant church and political officials with ties to both the Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Ulster Volunteer Force, the two main loyalist paramilitaries, acknowledged yesterday that the groups were discussing whether to join the IRA truce.

In London, a spokesman for Prime Minister John Major said Mr. Major had no intention of joining Mr. Reynolds in seeking direct or indirect contacts with the groups, which under British law are outlawed, along with the IRA.

"What Mr. Reynolds does and whom he speaks to is up to him," XTC the spokesman said.

He said that Mr. Major had offered reassurances on Northern Ireland's future within Britain to the elected leaders of the province's mostly Protestant political parties.

In his remarks early yesterday to British television and radio, Mr. Reynolds said he had made contact with representatives of the loyalist paramilitaries in the past, and would do so again, "because now that we have a decision to stop the guns on one side, we want to stop them on the other side."

Loyalist gunmen have taken responsibility for one killing since the cease-fire went into effect at midnight Wednesday -- the shooting death of a Catholic man late Thursday in North Belfast. The IRA said it would not retaliate for that killing, and since then, security officials here say, the province has been quiet.

The loyalist paramilitaries have grown in menace. Killings of Catholics and IRA figures by the Protestants have outnumbered killings by the IRA over the past three years, security officials here say.

In East Belfast yesterday, several hundred loyalists marched peaceably in an annual parade commemorating a member of a paramilitary group who was shot to death five years ago by an undercover police officer.

Last week, the Combined Loyalist Military Command, which represents the two main paramilitary groups, appealed to the province's Unionist political leadership to produce assurances that Northern Ireland's status as a part of Britain was not under threat.

David Trimble, a member of Britain's Parliament for the Ulster Unionist Party, said he did not believe the militants would give up violence unless the British government convinced them that there had been no deal with the IRA.

"The important thing is to convince the people in Northern Ireland generally and loyalist paramilitaries in particular that there has been no such deal and that there will be no such deal to reward republican terrorism," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

David Ervine, a member of the militant Progressive Unionist Party, which has close ties to paramilitaries, said he also believed that with such assurances, "then history could be around the corner."

But Mr. Ervine said yesterday that the guerrillas would be more satisfied by reassurances from the British rather than the Irish prime minister.

The Rev. Roy Magee, a Presbyterian minister who has worked closely with the loyalist groups, said they were likely to make some sort of decision on how to respond to the truce within the next week.

"I have a feeling it will be positive," said Mr. Magee, who added that he had counseled militant leaders that they risked Britain turning its back on Northern Ireland's Protestants if they chose to provoke it with violence.

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