Killings Shake Ulster Peace Talks
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Police and politicians have blamed the Irish Republican Army for gunning down a drug dealer and a Protestant militant _ slayings that may get the IRA’s Sinn Fein allies thrown out of Northern Ireland’s peace talks.
Those separate Belfast killings put pressure on the British and Irish governments to expel Sinn Fein _ and on the north’s major pro-British Protestant gang, the Ulster Defense Association, to retaliate against Catholics.
In an implicit reference to Sinn Fein, the British government’s No. 2 minister in Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, warned of ``serious implications″ if either slaying ``is shown to have been committed by an organization connected with a participant in these talks.″
On Tuesday afternoon, a gunman repeatedly shot Bobby Dougan point-blank as the 38-year-old Protestant waited in his car to pick up his family’s baby-sitter in Dunmurry, southwest Belfast. In 1994, the IRA shot Dougan, a reputed UDA member, in the stomach in his home.
Police later arrested three men in the nearby Catholic district of Twinbrook, where the killer’s getaway car was abandoned. A detective, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that at least two of those being interrogated were considered IRA suspects.
The attack on Dougan mirrored a Jan. 19 killing of another UDA member in the same area by the Irish National Liberation Army, an anti-British gang opposed to the IRA truce that enabled Sinn Fein to get into the talks. That time, vengeful Protestants killed four Catholics in retaliation.
But late Tuesday, the INLA emphatically denied killing Dougan _ a development that piled more suspicion on the IRA.
Gary McMichael, who leads the UDA-allied Ulster Democratic Party, asserted that the latest killings meant that ``the British government must decide whether it is prepared to indulge in double standards.″
Two weeks ago, the British and Irish governments expelled McMichael’s party from negotiations on Northern Ireland’s future after the UDA admitted killing Catholics in violation of its October 1994 cease-fire. Any new UDA violence would ensure McMichael stays out.
Police also suspect that IRA members killed drug dealer Brendan Campbell, 33, outside a south Belfast restaurant Monday night. Campbell’s girlfriend was shot twice in the back but survived.
``People had begun to hope that the series of murders which have taken place since Christmas were at an end,″ said Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews, who appealed for Protestant militants not to retaliate.
``These hopes have been sadly dashed by those who have no concern for the sanctity of human life _ or the future of the community in which they live,″ Andrews said.
The IRA formally stopped bombing and shooting in July 1997 to permit Sinn Fein to join the negotiations, which continue today at Stormont, the center of British administration in east Belfast.
Those talks are inching towards the creation of a new Northern Ireland lawmaking assembly in which Protestants and Catholics would be expected to govern in coalition. Alone among the parties, Sinn Fein flatly opposes the plan because it wants to abolish Northern Ireland, not reform it.
Despite its cease-fire, the IRA has continued to inflict ``punishment″ beatings and shootings on scores of people accused of criminal behavior.
Campbell, originally from Catholic west Belfast, had already been shot in the chest Jan. 6. At the time, Northern Ireland’s police chief, Ronnie Flanagan, attributed that attack to the IRA.
Flanagan made no comment Tuesday, but senior officers told reporters that the IRA killed Campbell, who survived the previous murder bid because he was wearing a bulletproof vest.