/ 15 September 2005

Protestant group urges calm after N Ireland riots

One of the Protestant paramilitary groups implicated in three nights of rioting in Belfast called on Tuesday for an end to the violence, the worst Northern Ireland has seen in years.

Sixty police officers and at least 10 civilians have been hurt in the clashes, which erupted on Saturday and continued on Monday night, over a ban on a Protestant parade through Roman Catholic areas of Belfast.

The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) said it has ordered its members, who are loyal to the British crown, ”to avoid any confrontation on the streets and steer away from any acts of violence”.

The UDA said it will not allow such violence to ”destroy our own communities”, which have seen vehicles and property smashed and burned.

Peter Hain, Britain’s Secretary for Northern Ireland Affairs, said on Monday the violence was ”not loyalism but gangsterism”.

He attended an intelligence briefing at police headquarters that presented what he said was ”absolutely clear-cut” evidence that the outlawed UDA and another group, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), were behind the violence.

Hain said he will announce soon if the government recognises whether the two groups are still observing the truce they declared in 1994, just weeks after a ceasefire by the Catholic Irish Republican Army.

Sources close to the government said Hain will only declare that the UVF truce has lapsed following not just the events at the weekend but also a summer in which four people were killed as a result of internal UVF feuding.

One source said the decision will be little more than a ”political statement”, as the government will continue contacts with David Irvine, the leader of the UVF’s political wing, the Progressive Unionist Party.

The UDA, however, is deemed to have behaved better and will not be subject to such a decision, a source added.

In Monday night’s violence, police said 10 of their officers were hurt when security forces clashed with hundreds of Protestants hurling Molotov cocktails, fireworks and other objects.

Police and soldiers used water cannon against militants. At the weekend, security forces used live rounds and plastic bullets against militants firing automatic weapons or hurling home-made grenades, pipe bombs and paving stones.

Chris Kerr, spokesperson for the fire and rescue service, said tensions were ”greatly reduced” on Monday night.

Police chief Hugh Orde insisted on Northern Ireland’s UTV television station that ”we are in control of the situation”.

Several thousand police and 1 200 soldiers were deployed in the streets of the British-ruled territory, he added.

The violence grew out of Saturday’s annual Whiterock parade, part of a series of processions held in Northern Ireland every year during the so-called ”marching season” by members of the Protestant Orange Order.

The recent surge of violence has exposed a deep frustration among militant loyalists with the 1998 peace process that was intended to end three decades of strife in the province. — AFP