Republican feud blamed for 3,000th Ulster death

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AFTER almost a quarter-century of continual violence, the Northern Ireland death toll reached 3,000 last night with the death of a man on the outskirts of Catholic west Belfast.

The victim, a young man, was killed on board a bus by gunmen. According to local people, the killing appeared to be part of an internal feud in the Irish Peoples Liberation Organisation (IPLO). Neighbours said last night that the dead man was Hugh McKibben, and the IPLO's Belfast Brigade claimed in a call to a newspaper that it had shot him.

He had just played in a Gaelic football match and was travelling with team-mates when the masked gunmen went aboard and singled him out. He thus became the 3,000th person to die violently since the disturbances occasioned by the civil rights movement degenerated first into street violence and later into terrorism.

The IPLO is an unpredictable republican splinter group whose history has been punctuated by violent feuds. Internecine strife has been expected since a leading member, Jimmy Brown, was shot dead in Belfast last week. Yesterday's victim helped to carry his coffin at the funeral. Since that killing two factions have been threatening each other, with several murder attempts taking place within the past seven days.

The last person to die before Mr McKibben was a Belfast woman who had moved to England but returned to the city for a holiday. She was killed when an IRA group opened fire on an army-RUC Land Rover patrol.

The first death of the troubles took place on 13 July 1969, when a Catholic, Francis McCloskey, 66, was killed in a melee after RUC officers baton-charged a crowd.

Last night's victim is, according to RUC figures, the 3,000th to die in Ulster, but some observers believe a further dozen or more doubtful deaths could be added to that total. In addition, more than 200 people have been killed in England and the Irish Republic and in continental Europe.

Republicans have been responsible for well over half of all the deaths, with loyalists killing almost 800 and the security forces around 350. A further 150 remain difficult or impossible to classify.

Last year 94 people were killed. The worst time was 1972 to 1976, almost half the killings being compressed into those years.

In 1972 the death toll almost reached 500, and that year saw 10,000 shooting incidents. The years since then, while never free of violence, have never experienced such levels of killing.

The victims have included many civilians, as well as members of the security forces, terrorists, legal figures and prison officers.