Formula to keep fringe loyalist at talks sought

 

THE Ulster Unionist leader, Mr David Trimble, is reported to be working on a "rescue package" to enable the fringe loyalist parties to remain in the multi party talks.

The talks are due to resume next Monday. The DUP and Mr Robert McCartney's UK Unionist Party are eager to have the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party expelled from the negotiations unless a death threat from the Combined Loyalist Military Command is lifted.

The CLMC has threatened to kill two leading loyalists, Mr Billy Wright and Mr Alex Kerr, unless they leave the North. Both men had been extremely critical of the loyalist leadership and had called for greater militancy.

The UUP is understood to be opposed to taking any drastic action against the fringe loyalists. If they were ordered to leave talks, the loyalist ceasefire would be under great strain.

Expulsion could mean the end of the peace process. Combined with the absence of Sinn Fein, it would effectively render the talks worthless.

The DUP and the UK Unionists are expected to lodge a formal objection to the fringe loyalists' continued participation.

They will demand that the PUP and UDP be barred until the CLMC death threat is lifted. They will also insist that the PUP condemn the death threat, which it has so far refused to do.

A unionist source said Mr Trimble was working on a "rescue package" for the fringe loyalists. "It would enable them to remain in talks if they recommitted themselves to the Mitchell principles of non violence and found a form of words to distance themselves from the threat."

However, this would not be enough for the DUP, the UK Unionist Party and some Ulster Unionists, who believe nothing short of lifting the threat is enough to allow the fringe loyalists to remain at the table.

The final decision on the future of the PUP and UDP will be made by the talks chairman, Senator George Mitchell, and the two governments in consultation with the other parties.

The SDLP is believed to favour doing everything possible to allow the fringe loyalists to remain. The party leader, Mr John Hume, said he would like all parties to be present at talks and committed to non violence.

Mr Hume and Mr Trimble met for two hours in a hotel at Belfast International Airport yesterday, to clear the air before multi party talks. They discussed decommissioning, the SDLP's resignation from the Forum, and the CLMC death threat. They agreed to meet again at Stormont Castle on Monday.

Mr Hume said that it had been a constructive meeting". Both parties were committed to doing everything possible to ensure that the talks process moved on to discussing substantive issues as soon as possible, he said.

Mr Trimble described it as a "good meeting with a good exchange of views". He reiterated his commitment to moving the political process forward.

Mr Trimble is understood to be adhering to a very hardline position on decommissioning, which would not encourage the IRA to renew its ceasefire.