The PSNI was last night (Wednesday) accused of covering up a series of loyalist arms finds. In a highly unusual move, the UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) challenged police to explain why they have failed to publicise weapons seizures in north Belfast in recent weeks.
The UPRG's challenge comes despite the fact that the weapons recovered by officers belonged to the UDA.
Sources in the paramilitary group say police recovered at least four rifles, two handguns, ammunition and explosives during searches of the Westland estate
However, loyalists say they are "mystified" as to why the force has not publicised the arms finds.
The PSNI searches followed an internal UDA feud when supporters of leading north Belfast loyalists Andre and Ihab Shoukri fled the Westland estate after hundreds of 'mainstream' UDA men marched on the area four weeks ago.
At the time Protestant clergyman Brian Madden said he had witnessed Shoukri supporters brandishing rifles and handguns in the area as police held the mainstream UDA at bay.
"I saw machine guns on people's shoulders and handguns," he said.
"I was taken into a house, talking to people who were pointing guns, swinging guns. They were very, very angry."
Despite searches on the estate immediately after Shoukri supporters had fled police said only one weapon had been recovered.
However, a UPRG spokesman last night challenged this figure.
"We know from Pastor Brian Madden that this gang was heavily armed," he said.
"The PSNI is saying it only recovered one weapon. However, we know they actually recovered at least six weapons, ammunition and explosives.
"If the PSNI have recovered these weapons why haven't they said so? Are they trying to cover something up?
"If these weapons are still at large they could fall into the hands of children.
"Police have a responsibility to say what they have recovered."
A PSNI spokeswoman rejected the UPRG criticism.
"There were a number of searches on the Westland estate in recent weeks during which a number of weapons and munitions were recovered," she said.
"We are not going to elaborate further on those security operations."
SDLP assembly member Alban Maginness last night said he welcomed the seizure of illegal weapons but also questioned why police had failed to publicise the fact.
"The removal of any guns from the streets is welcome," he said.
"It is unusual that police seem to have chosen not to publicise these finds. It may be because of security considerations or some other reasons."