By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Loyalist sources are warning of more violence despite last Tuesday’s return to prison of UDA leader Johnny Adair, the man many blame for the current loyalist feud, which has now claimed three lives and left dozens homeless.
Reports at the weekend that a 72-hour truce had been declared were denied, although talks are going on behind the scenes to reduce the chances of further bloodshed.
The third man to die in the feud was 21-year-old Samuel Rocket, who had family and political links to the UVF and was murdered by a UDA gang on Thursday in front of his girlfriend and baby.
His funeral on Saturday was the third in as many days after the burials of Bobby Mahood and Jackie Coulter, both shot dead by the UVF on Aug. 21.
Tensions are still running high on the Shankill Road, with people on the lower Shankill, in particular, fearful of more killings. Many families perceived by the UDA to have UVF connections have been forced out of the area.
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Mobs of UDA men roamed the lower Shankill area with loudspeakers calling out the names of families they ordered out of the area. Agnes Street, between the lower and mid-Shankill, is now a virtual frontier separating UDA- and UVF-ruled areas. Up to 50 families have declared themselves homeless and been rehoused.
Those evicted were given only minutes to get out, forced to stuff their belongings into plastic bags before rocks and bottles rained down on them. Later, houses were ransacked and paint poured onto clothes and furniture.
The predicted bloodletting between the rival UDA and UVF has so far failed to materialize, although both sides appear to be arming themselves for further conflict and sources are adamant there are more revenge killings to come.
Meanwhile, enough commercial explosives to make 50 pipe bombs was discovered in a house in the Shankill area in the possession of the UDA on Wednesday. The next day, a UVF cache — including an Uzi sub-machine gun, an assault rifle, three handguns and a semi-automatic shotgun — was seized when two cars were stopped.
Despite several RUC arrests, no one yet faces any charges of murder in connection with the feud, leading many politicians in the SDLP and Alliance Party asking why the RUC has been unable to arrest the ringleaders.
British Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson has claimed credit for the relative quiet on the Shankill last weekend. He pointed in particular to his decision to reimprison Adair, although many are asking why it took him so long to send him back to jail.
Mandelson claimed his decision to send Adair back to jail had discouraged others from engaging in violence and said he hoped the arrest would clear the way for a settlement of what he called the "differences between different loyalist organizations."
Adair’s political allies have said he will challenge the decision to return him to prison through the courts. Mandelson said, however, that Adair hasn’t a legal leg to stand on. The Northern secretary’s powers under law are sweeping.
Mandelson said that he believed Adair had played a crucial part in recent violence and his decision to return him to prison was based on intelligence reports connecting him to paramilitary activity, sectarian violence and a major drugs operation.
"Nobody is untouchable, nobody is above the law", he said. "That is precisely as Johnny Adair has appeared to behave in the last few days."