Loyalists claim more victims than IRA

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LOYALIST terrorists in Northern Ireland have claimed responsibility for the first violence of the new year after the shooting of two men in a mainly Catholic area of Belfast.

For the first time in the 24-year history of the troubles, victims of loyalist terrorism exceeded those of the Republicans last year. According to RUC statistics, 38 people were killed by loyalists and 34 by Republicans.

The outlawed loyalist group Red Hand Commando claimed responsibility for shooting two men yesterday morning as they cleaned a car on Manor Street, close to the Crumlin Road Prison in north Belfast. One 29-year-old man was seriously ill in hospital. The condition of a 60-year-old man, who was also injured, was satisfactory. They were fired on from a passing car.

The loyalists said the action was in retaliation for the IRA killing of a Royal Irish Regiment soldier on Wednesday. Steven Waller, a 23-year-old private, had been home on leave from Cyprus when he was killed by gunmen in his mother's home in north Belfast.

On New Year's Eve, loyalist gunmen stormed a crowded betting shop in Flax Street in the Catholic Ardoyne area and opened fire with machine guns. No one was injured because the guns jammed after the first few rounds. The Ulster Freedom Fighters claimed responsibility for the attack yesterday. The outlawed terrorist group warned of further attacks in the new year.

In all, 84 people died in 1992. Despite the escalation of loyalist violence, which took the total of killings in the province beyond 3,000 last year, the number of fatalities is in overall decline. Last year's toll was 10 less than in 1991, and well below the levels of the mid-1970s.

Since 1969, the Republicans have killed more than 1,720 people, the security forces more than 350, and the loyalists about 785.