LONDON -- Amnesty International called today for an official inquiry into alleged collusion between British government security forces and Protestant paramilitaries on political killings in Northern Ireland.
A 48-page report by the London-based human rights group condemned the killing and violence of both sides in the civil conflict, including the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the mainly Catholic Irish Republican Army and Protestant paramilitary groups, such as the Ulster Defense Association.
Amnesty's first major report on political killings in Northern Ireland focused on "unanswered questions about security force killings and patterns of killings by paramilitary groups.
"There is also mounting evidence of collusion between government forces and groups like the Ulster Defense Association," Amnesty said. "We are urging the government to set up a wide-ranging, independent inquiry to examine the wider issue of collusion."
A spokesman for the British Northern Ireland Office said the government needed time to respond to the Amnesty International report. "However, it must be said the government refutes allegations of collusion between the security forces and paramilitaries," he said.
"It should be remembered," he said, "that it is the terrorists, both Republican and Loyalist, who consistently abuse the rights of the people in Northern Ireland, especially the ultimate right -- the right to life."
Amnesty said allegations have been made repeatedly that members of the police and the army turn "a blind eye" to human rights violations by Loyalist groups while aiding them with arms or intelligence information. Direct involvement of security personnel in Loyalist "death squads" has been alleged, the report said.
Amnesty also focused attention on allegations that security forces "deliberately killed people as an alternative to arresting them." Amnesty remained "unconvinced" by government denials that such "shoot to kill" orders exist.
Government disclaimers are not substantiated by evidence of "an official will" to bring perpetrators to justice, to make laws that conform to international standards or to investigate reported incidents fully, impartially and publicly, Amnesty said.
"The government needs to clear the air," said Anita Tiessen, an Amnesty spokeswoman, "by the appointment of an investigator with an independent, broad and public brief."
The British government spokesman said: "The only shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland is that of the terrorists, and there has never been and never will be such a policy on the part of the authorities."
About 3,400 people have been killed during more than 20 years of civil conflict in Northern Ireland, the report said.
Catholic-dominated Republican armed groups were responsible for over half the deaths, Loyalist groups more than a quarter and the security forces for about 11 per cent.
Security forces acknowledge killing about 350 people, according to Amnesty. About half were unarmed; most came from the Catholic community, the report said.
The army's crack Special Air Services (SAS), a kind of British Special Forces regiment, killed 37 reported IRA members between 1976 and 1992, Amnesty said. No SAS action against Loyalist paramilitaries has ever been reported, according to the study.
Amnesty said a pattern has emerged of repeated allegations that "suspects are arbitrarily killed rather than being arrested, that members of the security forces believe they can operate with impunity and that this is reinforced by government failures to take steps to prevent unlawful killings."
The Amnesty report comes at a time when Britain is still smarting over Gerry Adams' Republican public relations "coup" last week in the United States. President Clinton had lifted the long-standing U.S. ban against terrorists to allow Mr. Adams to visit the United States for two days.
Mr. Adams is president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. The Republican movement strives for a united Ireland and removal of British troops from Northern Ireland.
The British and Irish governments this week are struggling to keep alive a peace initiative that Sinn Fein says needs "clarification."
A grenade attack on Mr. Adams' West Belfast home is cited in the Amnesty report as one in which collusion between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and armed Loyalists groups is suspected.