By Chris Thornton
BELFAST — A loyalist feud that has been blamed for three deaths in Northern Ireland has threatened to escalate and involve all the major Protestant paramilitary groups.
The feud, which began as a turf war in Portadown, Co. Armagh, between the Ulster Volunteer Force and Loyalist Volunteer Force, is believed in danger of spreading to Belfast and dragging in the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the largest loyalist group.
In the latest incident, a 33-year-old Portadown man, Mark McClean, survived with relatively minor injuries after being shot five times as he was parking his car. McClean, whose brother Philly is believed to be a senior member of the LVF, said he was an innocent victim.
After the attack on McClean Friday, the LVF issued a death threat against the UVF leadership in Belfast, and the Ulster Freedom Fighters indicated in a media statement that it blames the UVF for the recent violence.
The LVF was set up in 1994 by UVF members, mostly from the Portadown area, who were opposed to the loyalist cease-fire. But as most of its active members were jailed, the UVF began reasserting itself in Portadown.
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In January, the LVF was blamed for the shooting death of bar owner Richard Jameson, allegedly the UVF commander in the area. Scores of UVF members attended his funeral in Portadown.
In mid-February, the UVF is believed to have hit back. Two teenagers, Andrew Robb and David McIlwaine, were beaten and had their throats cut. They were so badly mutilated police identified them by their clothing. Robb was a known supporter of the LVF, but McIlwaine is believed to have been killed because he was with Robb in a nightclub.
UVF members have denied that attack, but it led the UFF — which has a long history of bad blood with the UVF in Belfast — to call on the rival organization to stop murdering Protestants.