Monday, August 29, 2005

Hain under pressure to declare UVF ceasefire void

Colm Heatley:

The Secretary of State for the North, Peter Hain, is coming under increasing pressure to declare the Ulster Volunteer Force's (UVF) ceasefire void because of the paramilitary group's continued involvement in the loyalist feud.

The UVF has murdered four Protestant men in Belfast in the past seven weeks as part of its drugs feud with the rival Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).

Last weekend, the UVF shot and injured a man in Co Armagh, signalling the group's intention to extend the feud beyond Belfast into LVF strongholds in mid-Ulster. The LVF has vowed revenge.

Although the UVF has declared its intention to continue the feud “at all costs'‘, Hain has said only that “all ceasefires remain under review constantly'‘.

Hain said there was no question of the government turning a blind eye to any violence, but the SDLP's justice spokesman, Alban Maginness, accused the Northern Secretary of “burying his head in the sand'‘.

“It is clear that the UVF is engaged in a war with other loyalists, and people are being murdered on the streets of Belfast,” said Maginness.

“There seems to be a fear that, if the UVF's ceasefire is declared void, it will push the group over the edge - but it is already over the edge, and has been for quite a time.”

SDLP leader Mark Durkan has written to Hain expressing concern over the British government's response to the feud.

Five men were arrested last week in connection with the feud, but all were later released without charge. So far, 19 people have been arrested in connection with the four UVF murders, but nobody has been charged. Nationalists fear that the feud may result in a spate of sectarian murders by loyalist paramilitaries.

Privately, the UVF and LVF have said they will continue the feud indefinitely. However, a senior UVF source admitted the withdrawal of ceasefire status would “worry some members, especially ex-prisoners out on licence'‘.

Former prisoners out on licence can be sent back to jail if the Secretary of State believes they are re-involved in terrorism.

In June, Hain ordered that the Shankill bomber, Sean Kelly, should be returned to jail. However, he was released a few days before the IRA's decommissioning statement in July.

Leading loyalist has bail conditions changed so he can go on holiday


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