Protestant militants turning up heat in Northern Ireland
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Despite officially sticking to their cease-fire, Northern Ireland’s pro-British paramilitary groups are accused of an escalating series of often-deadly shootings and bombings.
The pro-British groups have not claimed responsibility for any of the attacks. The groups must maintain at least the appearance of a cease-fire or be banned from negotiations on Northern Ireland’s future _ as the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party already has been.
The Irish Republican Army broke its 1994 cease-fire in February 1996. Now, pro-British militants seem intent on following the IRA back into bloodshed, but pursuing a policy that cynical locals call ``No claim, no blame.″
On Tuesday, gunmen abducted a Roman Catholic man from Bellaghy, a predominantly Catholic village northwest of Belfast; they killed him with two shots to the head. On Wednesday, a Roman Catholic man escaped an apparent ambush in another rural village when the attacker’s gun jammed.
Earlier this year, loyalists were blamed for the slaying of a Catholic father of nine in his west Belfast home, for five bombs placed outside Sinn Fein property, and for a string of arson attacks on Catholic churches and schools.
Protestant and Catholic church leaders pleaded Wednesday for the attacks to end.
``For ordinary God-fearing Protestants, the violence being carried out supposedly in our name is particularly vile and to be condemned,″ said the Rev. David Murphy, a Presbyterian minister in Bellaghy. ``That man murdered yesterday caused offense to no one.″
Northern Ireland’s police commander, Ronnie Flanagan, says he has no doubt that all the pro-British paramilitary groups have members involved in the rising violence.
Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, chairman for the Northern Ireland talks due to resume June 3, has required all nine participating parties _ moderate Catholics, mainstream pro-British Protestants, and hard-line pro-British Protestants _ to renounce violence.
Sinn Fein leaders, complaining of a double standard, argue they should be admitted to the talks since the hard-line Protestants haven’t been kicked out for violating the Oct. 13, 1994, cease-fire.
The IRA formally announced the end of its cease-fire about an hour before it detonated a 1-ton truck bomb in London on Feb. 9, 1996, killing two.
Since the IRA resumed its campaign against British rule, the pro-British paramilitary groups have been divided as to when and how to retaliate against the province’s Catholic minority, from which the IRA draws some support.
The pro-British groups, rooted in poor Protestant areas, are responsible for about 900 of the 3,200 people killed in Northern Ireland’s conflict since the 1960s.
Gary McMichael, leader of a political party linked with the Ulster Defense Association, acknowledged that the loyalist truce ``has been fraying around the edges for months, and for obvious reasons.″
``People are understandably bitter that the IRA carries on as it does,″ said McMichael, whose father was killed by the IRA 10 years ago.
``It inevitably is provoking someone within loyalism to strike back, however misguided and counterproductive to the stability of Northern Ireland this might be.″