communities see return of dark days

A frightened enclave living under siege
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The Independent Online
At first glance, Ligoniel looks an attractive place to live. But it is under siege - a small Catholic enclave in an overwhelmingly Protestant area, just north of Belfast's Crumlin Road.

In bright July sunshine yesterday, the Divis and Black Mountains were a tranquil backdrop to the 2,000-strong community.

But on Monday night, the worst nightmares of the residents were realised when, spurred on by events at Drumcree, loyalist gangs effectively sealed off the community from the outside world by blocking the only two routes in and out and burning telephone cables with petrol to cut off communications.

Ligoniel, a former spinning mill area, dating from the 18th century, has long been a scene for loyalist murders of Catholics. The current violence is all the more frightening for that.

The Catholics in the area took little comfort from loyalist paramilitary leaders' public condemnation yesterday of the intimidation and violence across Belfast over the past four days.

An elderly man summed up local feeling: "We live in a beautiful area and we used to go for walks up on the mountain. When the Troubles were at their height, we always used to look over our shoulder and wonder who might be following us in a car. For 18 months we could walk without fear, but now we're looking over our shoulders again."

The main road out of Ligoniel, leading to Belfast's international airport, was clear yesterday, but the community fears more attacks at any time."Most of us don't even think of going out of here - the only way out is through loyalist areas," said an elderly man.

Throughout those areas and across Belfast, public transport was largely limited to the early hours of the day. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions reported that many workers were unable to turn up for work.

People who needed to travel were being advised to make their journeys early in the day, as from early evening onwards, roads across the province became increasingly difficult to negotiate because of burnt-out vehicles, deliberately felled trees, or the risk of car-jacking.

The RUC was understood to be unwilling to clear roads that might result in violent confrontation and inflame the situation further.

With businesses opening for half the day only, and the public heeding police advice to stay indoors, Belfast city centre looked like a ghost town by early afternoon. Hospital out- patient services in the north of Belfast had also been affected.

The Northern Ireland tourist industry, which had enjoyed 18 months of growth before the end of the ceasefire, reported that many tourists who were "desperate" to leave Belfast found themselves unable to do so, as major road and rail routes and access to the international airport were blocked by protesters.

Hundreds of holidaymakers from the province missed flights out as protesters mounted road-blocks in Co. Antrim. An airport spokeswoman said some travellers, including invalids and children, had left their cars and walked the last mile to the airport in their determination to get away. Many others arrived for their flights up to 10 hours early.

Hotels reported large numbers of cancellations and "no-shows", while the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, appealing for calm, acknowledged that the latest trouble could un-do all the positive work that had increased visitors to the province last year by 20 per cent.

"We are obviously very concerned," a spokesman said.