Rival loyalist factions expect more violence

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The Independent Online

The loyalist paramilitary underworld remained tense yesterday, bracing itself for more violence as the lethal feud continued between the Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Ulster Volunteer Force.

The loyalist paramilitary underworld remained tense yesterday, bracing itself for more violence as the lethal feud continued between the Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Leading members of both groups were in hiding and staying in what they hope are safe houses in the wake of Monday's UVF attack which killed two men, one a close associate of the UFF leader Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair.

After the killings there were retaliatory UFF attacks on homes in a number of areas, although during the day an uneasy peace prevailed in the loyalist heartland of the Shankill Road in Belfast. Troops are on duty in the area.

Elsewhere, shots were fired at houses in Londonderry, east Belfast and the north Antrim villages of Dervock and Portballintrae. No one was injured.

Although offers of mediation have been made, the general feeling is that the two groups are probably intent on inflicting more damage on each other than attempting to end the conflict at this stage.

John White, political spokesman for the UFF, said: "Sooner or later we'll talk but ... that will not happen before we've walked behind more coffins. I think that's a tragedy." Another of its political spokesmen, Gary McMichael, said: "This infighting is tearing loyalism apart. Those involved should ... realise they are on a road to nowhere. Ultimately the loyalist community are the losers in this feud."

Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party, the UVF's political wing, said mediation talks would have to get under way at some stage but did not expect a start to be made just yet. "Sooner or later people will talk. We have to find a mediator who is respected on both sides."

The Rev Roy Magee, the Belfast Presbyterian minister who has acted in this role in the past, said he was ready to help out but believed the two sides were not ready to talk yet.

Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, held a two-hour meeting with the RUC Deputy Chief Constable, Colin Cramphorn, and the Army's commanding officer, Sir Hew Pike. He has described the dispute as "nothing more or less than squalid murderous gang warfare."

Mr Mandelson has resisted calls for prisoners freed under the Good Friday Agreement terms to be recalled to prison.

Michael Ancram, Conservative spokesman on Northern Ireland, said: "The credibility of the peace process depends on Peter Mandelson showing that what he has said he would do he is now prepared to do... the evidence is there that Johnny Adair and Michael Stone have been engaging in naked displays of paramilitarism... this is in breach of their licences and if he wants to give an indication he is not prepared to see the sort of lawlessness we have seen, I think they should be returned to prison immediately."

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