A Protestant paramilitary group in Northern Ireland, supportive of British rule, announced on Sunday that it was disbanding, following the disarmament of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the main Catholic paramilitary group. The order from the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leadership to "stand down" was to take effect yesterday.
The Protestant loyalists in Northern Ireland support the continuation of British rule, whereas the Catholic republicans favor integration into a united Ireland.
Fighting between paramilitary groups from the two camps have cost several thousand lives over the past 35 years.
The IRA renounced violence in July and in September announced that it had put its weapons beyond use, in a further step toward a peace settlement in the province.
The announcement drew an immediate welcome from the British, Irish and US governments, which are trying to broker a permanent political settlement in the British province.
The LVF was founded in 1996 by Billy Wright, dubbed "King Rat" by the press, who broke away from the larger Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) amid an internal dispute.
Wright was shot dead in prison the following year by members of an armed republican group.
Earlier on Sunday, the UVF and the LVF agreed to end their feud which has caused four deaths since July, according to a clergyman who was acting as mediator.
"We now believe that the feud has permanently ended," said Mervyn Gibson, a Protestant minister of the divided community, following months of neogtiation.
"A process of extensive talks was embarked upon independently with the UVF/Red Hand Commando [its military wing] and the LVF," Gibson said in a statement.
"Those initiating the process had the encouragement of many within political and community life and the prayer support of individuals and churches," the statement added.
Last summer, the UVF, the oldest of the Protestant armed underground groups, killed four men linked to the LVF, swearing they were going to kill all its members.
The weaker LVF retaliated by wounding one man seriously.
Tensions had existed between the two groups in Protestant strongholds of the province ever since the LVF set itself up as a breakaway group from the UVF.
Both have been responsible for the sectarian murders of numerous Roman Catholics as part of the overall conflict dividing the community, but the two Protestant groups have also become steeped in criminal activitiy including drug trafficking.
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