Loyalist gunmen break word on cease-fire, police chief says Group killed at least 3 in 3 weeks, he charges

January 23, 1998|By BOSTON GLOBE

DUBLIN -- In yet another blow to a wobbly peace process, the police chief in Northern Ireland said yesterday that a loyalist paramilitary group that claims to be observing a cease-fire has killed at least three Roman Catholics in the past three weeks.

Ronnie Flanagan, chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, confirmed what police sources have been saying since New Year's Eve, when masked gunmen raked a Catholic pub in North Belfast with gunfire, killing one man and wounding five others.

By going public, Flanagan threw into doubt the Ulster Defense Association's 3-year-old cease-fire and the continued participation in the peace talks of its political wing, the Ulster Democratic Party.

If the party is expelled from the negotiations, the talks could collapse because they would lack a quorum of parties representing Protestants who want to retain the union with Britain. Under the principles guiding the talks, any party that is associated with violence must be expelled.

Ulster Democratic leader Gary McMichael, whose party represents one of the two biggest Protestant loyalist paramilitary groups, insisted that, as far as he knew, the cease-fire was intact. Even if it was not, he argued, his party should not be thrown out, because it is committed to democratic principles.

While they would not say so publicly, officials in McMichael's party suggested that maverick elements within the UDA might be committing unsanctioned acts of violence, including the three murders cited by Flanagan.

Flanagan said he did not believe the IRA cease-fire was facing imminent collapse, but he said the Irish Republican Army remains active and attempted to murder a reputed drug dealer in South Belfast two weeks ago.

He said that shooting was carried out by an IRA unit using the cover name of Direct Action Against Drugs, which killed a half-dozen reputed dealers shortly before the IRA broke an 18-month cease-fire in February 1996.

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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