The party representing Northern Ireland’s largest pro-British paramilitary group withdrew from peace talks Monday, leaving before they could be expelled because of three killings claimed by their outlawed ally.
The sudden departure of the Ulster Democratic Party, which represents the banned Ulster Defense Association, will likely raise fears of more attacks against the north’s Roman Catholic minority.
The pro-British group walked out of negotiations on Northern Ireland’s future before the British and Irish governments could force them out for allegedly violating the pledge required of all participants - nonviolence.
UDA commanders “have themselves admitted responsibility for a series of appalling murders which have created such fear on the streets in Northern Ireland,” said Mo Mowlam, Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary.
“You can’t have people murdered and ignore it,” she added.
The UDA is supposed to be maintaining an October 1994 cease-fire to ensure the Ulster Democrats a place in the talks. But the group admitted Friday that it killed at least three of the eight Catholics slain since Christmas.
Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, chairman of the talks and author of the nonviolence stipulations, said it was necessary to register protest against “a relatively small number of gunmen … acting in defiance of all democratic principles.”
Ulster Democratic Party leader Gary McMichael vowed to keep counseling UDA members not to kill - and to get his party back in the negotiations, which began in June 1996 and are supposed to conclude by May.
“I want to make it clear that we will not walk away from this process,” he said, flanked by seven colleagues, four of whom spent time in prison for attacks on Catholics.