Category: Archive

IRA questions, releases British soldiers in Belfast

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — The RUC has confirmed it is investigating an incident in which two off-duty British soldiers were detained by nationalists and brought before an senior IRA man in Belfast recently.

The two soldiers had apparently become involved in a late-night drunken brawl in the Short Strand area of Belfast. They are both members of the Signals Corps, based at British Army headquarters in Lisburn.

They were out for a Saturday night in Belfast, got drunk, and became involved in a fight, the RUC said. They were then taken before an IRA commander and released, after receiving a "telling off" for their drunken behavior.

A British Army spokesman confirmed the army is aware of the incident, saying the circumstances were being investigated by the RUC and military authorities. The release of the British soldiers reflects a change since the IRA ended its campaign.

British soldiers are warned not to enter republican areas and not to draw attention to themselves.

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The two soldiers, one Scottish and one English, are understood to have been drinking in a night club in Belfast city center before making their way across the River Lagan into the nationalist Short Strand area to try to hail a taxi.

Residents say the pair joined a group of loyalists who began throwing stones at houses in the nationalist area. When a crowd of nationalists gathered to challenge the crowd, the loyalists ran off, leaving the two soldiers stranded.

Residents brought the men into the Short Strand area and took documents, including their army identity cards, documents from Thiepval barracks in Lisburn and a Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club membership card.

When residents realized the men were soldiers, an IRA man was called to the scene and gave them a dressing down before they were released. A republican source said: "This puts the lie to claims that the IRA is not committed to its cease-fire. If that was the case these two soldiers would undoubtedly have been shot.

The soldiers went immediately to the nearest RUC station and reported the incident. The RUC has launched an investigation into assault and robbery allegations.

A police spokesman said the soldiers were forced against a wall, questioned, robbed and assaulted, before being chased off. They suffered minor bruising to the head and chest.

Security sources say the two soldiers will likely be reprimanded for their behavior and could be withdrawn from Northern Ireland early.

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