Warring gangs predict more Belfast bloodshed as third man is slain

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The Independent Online

Hardline loyalists in two warring paramilitary groups warned today that they see no end in sight to their feud, which already has claimed three lives and brought fear back to the streets of Belfast.

Hardline loyalists in two warring paramilitary groups warned today that they see no end in sight to their feud, which already has claimed three lives and brought fear back to the streets of Belfast.

"There are those on both sides hellbent on continuing it until they feel they have drawn enough blood," said Billy Hutchinson, a politician linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force, reacting to news of the latest killing.

A gunman suspected to be affiliated with the rival Ulster Defense Association broke into a home in Belfast's hard-line Oldpark district late Wednesday and fatally shot Sam Rocket, 21, in front of his girlfriend.

The feud between the UDA and UVF - both outlawed groups supposed to be observing a joint cease-fire in support of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord - first turned deadly Monday when a suspected UVF gunman shot up a car parked on Oldpark's Crumlin Road, killing two men.

One of those victims, Bobby Mahood, was being buried Wednesday. The funeral for the other, UDA veteran Jackie Coulter, was scheduled Thursday.

Police arrested five Protestant militants in possession of several guns soon after that attack - among them Rocket's older brother, scheduled to appear in court today on weapons charges.

The Rocket family once were in the UDA fold, but were expelled in the mid-1990s in an argument over control of criminal rackets. Some family members had since realigned themselves with the UVF.

Police arrested six more Protestant militants late Wednesday after spotting them in two cars parked on Belfast's Shankill Road. They pursued them on foot into a neighborhood bedecked with UDA flags and murals. Later, they discovered six firearms - a submachine gun, rifle, shotgun and three handguns - abandoned on the pavement.

UDA representatives coldly predicted that they hadn't yet evened up the score for Monday's double slaying, and so Sammy Rocket wouldn't be the last to die.

"This is something I was expecting. And I don't see an end to it," said John White, chairman of the UDA-linked Ulster Democratic Party.

"I'm not condemning it," said White, who was convicted of one of Northern Ireland's most heinous murders - the 1972 torture and knife slayings of a Catholic politician and his Protestant girlfriend.

The UVF, founded in 1966, and the UDA, founded in 1971, have killed more than 800 Catholic civilians in a campaign designed to punish the Irish Republican Army, which has roots in Belfast's most hard-line Catholic districts.

The Protestant groups called a joint cease-fire in 1994 six weeks after the IRA stopped its campaign to abolish Northern Ireland as a Protestant-majority state linked to Britain.

The UDA-UVF alliance, always under strain over competition for control of lucrative rackets such as drug trafficking and cigarette smuggling, began to unravel in 1996 when the IRA temporarily abandoned its cease-fire.

The UDA is by far the larger group, with an estimated 2,000 members, while police estimate the UVF has no more than 300.

But the UVF's public representatives have proved far more adept at the politics of peacemaking, another factor driving the rivalry for control of key Protestant districts.

Hutchinson and another former UVF prisoner have been elected to Northern Ireland's 108-member legislature created under terms of the Good Friday accord. The UDA's party fielded several candidates, but failed to win a single seat.

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