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Car bomb wounds IRA supporter; Is Protestant militants’ truce over?

December 22, 1996

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ A car bomb wounded a prominent Irish Republican Army supporter Sunday, signaling the apparent end of a 26-month truce by pro-British Protestant militants.

No one claimed responsibility for the small bomb, which could have large ramifications for Northern Ireland’s deteriorating peace process.

Loyalists _ Protestant militants who want to maintain British rule in Northern Ireland _ kept to their cease-fire for more than nine months despite the IRA’s decision to resume hostilities in February.

An end to their truce could trigger a new round of tit-for-tat violence between the two sides, and the possible exclusion of political parties affiliated with loyalist militants from negotiations over the future of the province.

The bomb detonated when the owner, 35-year-old Eddie Copeland, started his Honda Civic outside his parents’ house in Ardoyne, a Roman Catholic enclave of north Belfast surrounded by Protestant districts.

The blast blew off the car’s hood but caused little other damage. Copeland suffered leg wounds.

``His leg was all open, but he was conscious,″ said neighbor Joe Lee, who helped stanch the flow of blood until medics arrived.

Copeland was a known IRA supporter. In October 1993, he was shot in the stomach by an angry British soldier as he attended the funeral of an IRA man who killed himself and nine Protestants in a bombing.

David Trimble, Protestant leader of Northern Ireland’s largest party, the Ulster Unionists, described Copeland in 1994 as one of three IRA ``godfathers″ in Belfast.

The cease-fire by the loyalist groups _ principally the outlawed Ulster Defense Association and Ulster Volunteer Force _ had held through a series of IRA attacks, including the Oct. 7 bombing of the British army’s headquarters in Northern Ireland.

But retaliation became likely after an IRA gunman on Friday shot at several police officers guarding a Protestant politician at a children’s hospital. One officer was wounded.

David Ervine, a former Ulster Volunteer Force member who leads a UVF-affiliated party in peace negotiations, said Sunday’s bombing marked ``potentially the beginning of a spiral″ back toward sectarian violence.

Negotiations on Northern Ireland’s future began in June, but groups that failed to renounce violence _ notably the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party _ were barred.

The IRA has killed about 1,800 people since 1970; loyalists about 900.

Sunday’s attack came an hour after a nationally televised peace rally attracted only a small crowd in front of Belfast City Hall, the spot where President Clinton addressed tens of thousands during his November 1995 visit.

``It’s a big disappointment,″ east Belfast resident Peter McQuade said of the low turnout. ``I would have thought more people would have come. The events of the last few days are so depressing, I think they have lost their enthusiasm for peace.″

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