Feuding loyalists bring the fear back to Belfast

Belfast's Protestant para-military strongholds are again gripped in one of the bouts of sporadic feuding which erupt in the loyalist underworld, claiming lives and causing much social disruption. Such violence is a familiar part of the Belfast landscape: each year of the past decade has seen killings resulting from them, usually of active loyalists.

Two feuds are boiling, one of them centring on disputes within the Ulster Defence Association, the largest grouping. But the one causing most worry involves the Ulster Volunteer Force, another large grouping apparently intent on wiping out the smaller Loyalist Volunteer Force.

The UVF is generally regarded as the least bad of the loyalist groups, largely because it is the most political of the paramilitary organisations and supports the overall peace process. But it is still a violent organisation involved in organised crime, whose feuding with the LVF frequently flares into open violence. In recent weeks, the UVF has killed two men, one of whom had no obvious LVF connections.

The LVF, which broke away from the UVF in 1996, was initially involved in many sectarian killings but is now regarded as essentially a straightforward drugs gang. A senior loyalist said yesterday: "LVF criminality goes into rapes, drugs and all that. The UVF is saying this has to stop and is trying to mop all of this up. Maybe there should have been one night of the long knives years ago; that might have sorted a lot of this out."

The UVF has been targeting Ballysillan in north Belfast and Garnerville in the east, areas where LVF members and supporters tended to cluster. At Ballysillan, a loyalist taxi firm was firebombed and two houses were pipe-bombed.

On Sunday, up to 300 people appeared in Garnerville with the intention of expelling LVF families from the district. Some families moved out; yesterday about 100 men were on the streets.

Police have been monitoring the situation with patrols and by helicopter. Ironically, Garnerville has strong security associations, as the site of the police training college.

The Government has stopped allowances due to the UVF's political wing, the Progressive Unionist party, because of the violence. The UVF does not appear to have abandoned its political aspirations, but these have been shelved during its attacks on the LVF. The PUP leader, David Ervine, said the feud will get worse, his party had no influence and was powerless to intervene. He added: "The UVF is engaged in murder and the planning of murder. Anyone who is not moved by that isn't a human being. It's terrible and it must end."

Inside the UDA, recent tensions between the north and south Belfast "brigades" led to 100 men from the north area arriving in Sandy Row in the south of the city, where there was what one UDA figure described as "a Mexican stand-off".

This resulted from an incident in which a north Belfast UDA "got a duffing", in the words of a colleague, in the southern brigade's area. The incident was peacefully resolved, though the north Belfast leader's expensive gambling habits may mean his days in a position of responsibility may be numbered.

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