By Anne Cadwallader and Jack Holland
BELFAST — The UDA, the largest of the loyalist paramilitary groups, has threatened to shoot any Catholic dead beginning midnight Tuesday, June 20, that it deems is involved in "intimidating Protestants" in north and west Belfast. The announcement amounts to a formal ending of its cease-fire, which it called in October 1994.
The UDA has been suspected of engaging in violence before, including sectarian assassinations. But a formal breaking of the cease-fire would be regarded as a threat to the whole peace process.
"It is disturbing and a cause for concern," an Irish government spokesman said.
Shortly before the threat, a bomb was found near Hillsborough Castle, the residence of Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary of state, Peter Mandelson, who was not there at the time. Composed of a few pounds of home-made explosives and a detonator, the bomb may have lain there for some time, reports say. No one has claimed it, but speculation is that it is linked to dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.
In what’s being seen as an attempt to upstage its rivals in the UVF, the UDA issued its chilling threat under its cover name "UFF" as tensions rose in the run-up to the annual Drumcree crisis. Reported sightings of UDA leader Johnny Adair in the North Belfast area have heightened nationalists’ anxiety that the organization will assert its role as "defender" of local Protestants by attacking Catholics. Adair, the former leader of one of the UDA’s most violent units — "C" Company, in West Belfast — was recently released after serving a prison sentence for organizing violence. He came to prominence in the early 1990s during a resurgence of the loyalist murder campaign.
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The UDA said it made its threat after coming under increasing pressure "to protect beleaguered Protestants." It accused Catholics of a "systematic, orchestrated campaign of intimidation."
Reliable sources claim that the friction arose after 10 houses recently built in North Queen Street were occupied by Catholic families. Loyalists attacked their homes and Catholics later retaliated. North Queen Street has long been an area of tension in North Belfast, itself a long-standing flash point, between the two communities. In December 1971, the loyalists’ campaign of sectarian killings began there with a bomb attack on McGurk’s Bar that left 15 Catholics dead, one of the worst incidents in the Troubles.
"From 12 o’clock tonight June 20th 2000 the UFF reserves the right to shoot any person seen to be attacking Protestant homes. This will be in direct contradiction to our ceasefire, which we have steadfastly adhered to despite intense provocation, but enough is enough," the UDA statement said.
The SDLP has pointed out that although many Protestants are leaving north and west Belfast, this is by free will, to upgrade to better houses in the suburbs and satellite towns, not because of any intimidation.
As a result, streets of homes in formerly Protestant areas are empty and blocked up, while nearby Catholic areas are straining at the seams from overcrowding, with long waiting lists for public housing.
Meanwhile, nationalist youths threw dozens of petrol and paint bombs at British Army lines on Saturday as an Orange Parade passed through a Catholic area in the first violence of the marching season.
The soldiers and police responded by firing two plastic bullets at the crowd. Three youths are believed to have been hit, but neither was seriously injured. The Orangemen passed within 100 yards of the violence, banging drums as they walked out of Lurgan town center.
Three police officers and a soldier were also slightly injured in the trouble.
Sinn Fein Assembly member for the area Dara O’Hagan said, "The Parades Commission must take the blame for this. It was sheer folly to allow this march to go ahead. The trouble is a direct consequence of a decision by the Parades Commission to allow an Orange parade to march through a nationalist area."
Portadown district Orange Order press officer, David Jones blamed nationalists and republicans. "Again we can see they have absolutely no intention of living up to the mutual respect principle they are so fond of quoting from the Belfast agreement," he said.
The rioting in Lurgan was one sign of increasing tension leading up to this July’s Orange parades in nearby Portadown. Over the last week there have been a number of incidents involving loyalist gangs including attacks on Catholic primary schools in County Antrim, missiles thrown at Catholics leaving factory in Portadown, and damage to trucks belonging to a Catholic-owned hauling firm that services the factory.