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Beatings carry on despite the Ulster ceasefire

A 16-year-old boy was recovering in hospital in Belfast yesterday after becoming the seventh victim of paramilitary punishment attacks in the last seven days.

The savage assaults have demonstrated the fact that, despite the ceasefires, such punishments remain a feature of life in the Northern Ireland ghettos.

In the latest incident, which took place in the Whiterock area of west Belfast on Thursday night, masked men dragged the boy into a car and drove him to a road junction. He was beaten with wooden batons and suffered a broken wrist and ankle.

In attacks in Londonderry last weekend, two teenagers suffered broken ankles, wrists and elbows.

Most of the incidents have happened in republican areas, but loyalist punishment squads have also been active.

In one incident in a Protestant area a 27-year-old man sustained a broken ankle, leg, elbow, hand and fingers. In a less serious incident recently a former Sinn Fein councillor in Londonderry was tied to a lamppost in the city and had car paint poured over him.

No group claims responsibility for the assaults, but the general assumption is that they are carried out by the IRA and loyalist paramilitary groups. Their political associates, Sinn Fein and minor loyalist political parties, condemn such activities, butthe attacks continue.

More than 50 such beatings have been meted out since the IRA ceasefire of last August. The security forces, while condemning them as inhuman and disgraceful, point out the number has fallen in recent months.

The practice of kneecapping victims has come to an end since the ceasefires, which means the general level of paramilitary "discipline" has receded, but the fact that beatings now attract more publicity keeps the issue in the public eye. RUC Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley has described the practice as "disgusting".

Sinn Fein councillor Joe Austin said, yesterday, that his party disapproved of the beatings and that they should be stopped.

Loyalist political spokesmen have described them as morally wrong and said the RUC should be allowed to deal with such problems.

Councillor Seamus Close of the middle of the road Alliance party declared: "People who claim to speak for the so-called paramilitaries cannot don the mantle of democratic politics and expect to be taken seriously while, at the same time, equivocate or turn a blind eye to such anti-social behaviour.

"The Frankensteins must learn to control their monsters through proper recognition of the law."

While some dismiss Sinn Fein and loyalist statements as hypocritical, other sources say they believe political elements are genuinely arguing for an end to the beatings.

n The withdrawal of troops from the streets of Belfast at the weekend is not a concession to the IRA but a benefit of peace, Northern Ireland political affairs minister Michael Ancram said today.

The minister said that it was important for people to see tangible evidence of peace.

"We have had peace essentially since 31 August. This has been very much noticeable within Northern Ireland and very much welcomed, and it has allowed the security force presence to be reduced."

But he insisted that nothing that had been done could not be reversed.

n Billy Baxter, a former councillor from the Reverend Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist party, went on trial yesterday charged with soliciting and receiving protection money for the illegal Ulster Volunteer Force.