By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — A Catholic teenager is fighting for his life after he was attacked by a loyalist gang wielding a hatchet in Antrim town last Friday. The police say he was the victim of a “vicious, unprovoked, sectarian attack.”
Catholics living in the town have been warned to be on guard for more attacks. Fifty families in Antrim town have been forced to move in recent months due to increasing sectarian tensions in the area.
The latest incident happened late on Friday night outside primary school. A group of men were seen fleeing the scene toward the mainly loyalist Stiles estate.
Meanwhile, on a more hopeful note, there was no repeat of the loyalist protest outside Holy Cross school, Ardoyne, on Monday when children returned to school. One passing driver shouted at children, and there were banners and anti-Good Friday agreement posters in evidence, but no violence.
In Belfast, a senior police officer blamed loyalist and republican paramilitaries for orchestrating recent serious violence in the east of the city, a claim vehemently denied by Sinn Fein and local people.
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Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan said members of the UVF and the IRA were involved in disturbances on Wednesday in which 16 soldiers were injured. At least 17 plastic bullets were fired, injuring four youths in the Short Strand.
Trouble flared between loyalists in Cluan Place and their nationalist neighbors in the Short Strand. Catholics fought hand-to-hand battles with the British Army when large numbers of soldiers swamped their area.
Several powerful blast bombs were thrown over the peace wall into the Catholic area and nationalist youths responded by throwing petrol bombs and rocks back over the wall.
At one point, the loyalist missiles were hitting British soldiers on the Catholic side of the peaceline. When they realized this, they halted fire until the soldiers withdrew before opening up again on nationalist residents.
McQuillan was uncompromising in apportioning blame. “We have two factions, two paramilitary groups. one on each side. who are orchestrating this within their respective communities and are attacking the other community for their own purposes,” he said. “We have paramilitary organizations basically pursuing a war by other means and that other means is street violence. We have seen senior members of the IRA in the area last night organizing some of the violence.”
McQuillan said there would be a change in police tactics on Thursday night that would involve a bigger security presence in the area. He said officers would provide a buffer between the communities.
Short Strand residents displayed part of a pipe bomb, one of four they say were thrown into their area during Wednesday’s clashes. Fireworks were also used to attack nationalist homes, with one device punching a hole in a roof of a house.
Two families were made homeless in the attack and a woman with four young children was taken away by ambulance after her home was attacked by acid bombs, which were also thrown at other homes.
Sinn Fein says there is video evidence that “clearly and irrefutably shows the RUC standing by in previous attacks as masked men hurl devices at residents.”
The wife of a Unionist Councilor Sonia Copeland was treated by soldiers after she was hit on the head with a caustic substance, which burned her. The trouble came hours after the UUP leader, David Trimble, visited the loyalist side of the area.
He said the police needed to be given more resources to stop the trouble, explaining he had not visited the Catholic side of the peace line on security advice.
Trimble accepted that loyalists had been involved in attacks, but said they were defensive and that the majority of the violence came from republicans.
In Coleraine, Co. Derry, a Catholic family had escaped after UDA gunmen fired two shots through the front door of their house in a predominantly loyalist estate.
It’s believed there’s a direct link between this attack and the unveiling of a mural in the same area, commemorating 19-year-old William Campbell, a UDA member who died while handling a pipe bomb behind his home last January.
One resident said Catholics have been leaving the area and others were too scared to stay as a result of loyalist attacks. “Three masked UDA men were present during the unveiling of the mural on Sunday, Aug. 18,” said one.