Hundreds more exiled by Ulster death threats

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More than 700 people have been forced to flee from their homes in Northern Ireland because of paramilitary death threats in the past year, an increase of more than 50 per cent on 2000.

The latest figures show that the peace process has failed to stop the use of "exclusions" by republican and loyalist paramilitaries to target petty criminals, rival drug dealers or opponents of terrorist gangs. This increase from the normal annual figure of 400 to 450 confirmed cases has been blamed on the rise in drug-dealing, money-lending and paramilitary feuds following the IRA and loyalist ceasefires.

While some will have gone over the border, up to 50 of those fleeing, normally unemployed men in their 20s and 30s, will have gone to England or Scotland, often taking their wives and children with them.

The statistics, compiled by the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, will put fresh pressure on Sinn Fein and loyalist parties to force paramilitary groups to abandon exclusions.

The figures add weight to demands from a cross-party group of MPs for a new year lifting of the exile orders. A former Northern Ireland minister, Sir Brian Mawhinney, said it was a "monstrous injustice" for the bans by IRA and loyalist groups to remain.

MPs from the three main parties have tabled a Commons motion condemning the use of exile and calling for Sinn Fein to support their call.

Lembit Opik for the Liberal Democrats, Harry Barnes, a Labour MP, and Peter Bottomley, a former Tory minister – all members of the pro- peace New Dialogue group – condemned the "threats of paramilitary intimidation", assault, and murder which had forced hundreds of young people to flee.

The motion puts pressure on John Reid, the Northern Ireland Secretary, who is expected to announce a new year amnesty for convicted terrorists still on the run in the Republic of Ireland. The MPs urged the British and Irish governments to press the paramilitary-linked parties to lift their expulsion orders so exiles can return home.

Sinn Fein leaders have rejected calls to support the lifting of the bans because they say their communities do not have confidence in the Northern Ireland police service to deal with crime in nationalist areas. One Sinn Fein source said it was possible exiles would be shot if they returned.

The three MPs said Sinn Fein should respond with a concession to support the removal of the exile orders.