BY NAOMI CRAINE
Leading up to the January 30 demonstration that will take place in Derry, Northern Ireland, to commemorate the 1972 massacre of Irish civil rights marchers by British troops, London announced that the British Army would resume daytime foot patrols on the streets of Belfast. The pro-British Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police force is also stepping up its activity in nationalist areas throughout Northern Ireland.
The pretext for these moves is a series of killings that began with the December 27 shooting of Billy Wright, the leader of the right-wing paramilitary Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), in Long Kesh prison (also known by London as the Maze prison) near Belfast. In the following week, Loyalist (pro- British) terrorists shot up two pubs in predominately Catholic areas, killing two men and wounding several others.
Sinn Fein, the leading party fighting to end British rule in Northern Ireland, has called for not allowing these provocations to derail the all-party talks on the future of Ireland that are currently under way. "The Loyalists are doing what they always do when they are faced with having to do a deal with nationalists - they intimidate and terrorize and kill ordinary Catholics. But it won't work," a Sinn Fein official told the press.
The three prisoners charged with killing Wright belong to the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), a group that opposes Republican participation in the all-party talks and the cease-fire called by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Prison officials had placed members of the INLA and the LVF in the same wing of Long Kesh, fostering ongoing tensions. Republican and Loyalist prisoners are usually held in separate areas. Wright was notoriously virulent in organizing pro- British death squad activities. He was linked to the killings of more than 40 people over the last 15 years, most of them Catholic civilians.
The night Wright was killed, Loyalist gunmen assaulted a dance hall in a Catholic-owned hotel in County Tyrone, killing Seamus Dillon, who was providing security against rightist attacks. The second retaliatory attack took place on New Years Eve at the Clifton Tavern in North Belfast. Two paramilitary goons opened fire, killing Eddie Trainor and wounding five other patrons.
The LVF claimed responsibility for the killings. But William Hutchinson, leader of the pro-British Progressive Unionist Party, said he could not rule out the involvement of its paramilitary, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The LVF split off from this larger terrorist outfit after the UVF officially declared a cease-fire in 1994 as part of the negotiations.
The Unionist forces - that is those who support the continued "union" of Northern Ireland with the United Kingdom - continue to fracture over how to respond to the gains registered by those fighting for a free, united Ireland in recent months.
On January 6 members of the Loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defense Association imprisoned at Long Kesh announced they would no longer support the negotiations on the future of Ireland, scheduled to resume January 12. Leaders of some of the main Unionist parties went to meet with them, but said they could not convince the prisoners to change this stance.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams charged that these groups are trying to assert a "Unionist veto" over the peace process, and called on London's Northern Ireland secretary Marjorie Mowlam to take action to keep the all-party talks from derailing. On January 7 Mowlam said she would go to Long Kesh to meet with the Loyalist inmates.
The British government has tried to give itself the veneer of neutrality, claiming the stepped up activity of its 17,500 troops in the six counties of Northern Ireland is simply aimed at halting "sectarian" violence between Protestant and Catholic groups.
In fact, the purpose of the British Army troops and pro- London RUC has been to enforce the partition of Ireland, promote the caste-like privileges awarded to Protestants, and terrorize the nationalist community -from the use of British troops against Nationalists in Derry's Battle of the Bogside in 1969, to the killing of 14 civil rights demonstrators on "Bloody Sunday" in 1972, through the most recent repression of nationalist protesters in Derry with plastic bullets Dec. 13, 1997.
On January 3 a court in London committed Róisín McAliskey for extradition to Germany. McAliskey faces frame-up charges of involvement in the bombing of a British Army barracks in Germany.
Over the last 14 months, her case has been a prominent focus of protests on behalf of Irish political prisoners. The court ruling frees British home secretary Jack Straw to make a final decision on the extradition request.
Meanwhile, supporters of the Irish freedom struggle continue to build a demonstration called for January 30 in Derry, Northern Ireland, to mark the 25th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and call for a new inquiry into the massacre.
A demonstration on the same theme is also planned for
London January 24.
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