US senators urge Clinton to rebuke Major over Ulster 'abuses'

Click to follow
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton has been urged by a group of senior US senators, including Democrats Edward Kennedy and Patrick Moynihan, to reprimand John Major during talks in the White House today over alleged human rights abuses by British security forces in Northern Ireland.

In a strongly worded letter sent to the President on Monday, the senators deplore the violence of the Irish Republican Army but argue that human and civil rights abuses by security forces, notably, they claim, in resorting to the use of lethal force and a shoot-to-kill policy, are 'as deeply troubling'.

Although the letter, obtained by the Independent, is signed by some of the most important Democrats in Congress, as well as two Republicans, notably absent among its authors is Tom Foley, the House Speaker. In recent days there has been speculation that Mr Foley would be appointed by President Clinton as a peace envoy to Northern Ireland.

In the letter, the 12 senators tell Mr Clinton they would support sending an envoy 'to help mediate a political solution to the conflict'. Much greater emphasis is given, however, to the allegations of human rights abuses.

'These abuses, long documented by the State Department and organisations like Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch, have only served to fuel and extend the conflict. We believe the hour has come for the United States to end its long tradition of silence on this very important subject,' the letter states.

It concludes: 'British human rights abuses may not be the sole cause of the violence in Northern Ireland. But reform of those abuses, in our view, must be an integral part of the solution.'

The sending of so forceful a letter by so important a group within the Senate points to a resurgent campaign in the US political community to exert pressure on Britain to reform its policy on Northern Ireland. Although most - but not all - of the signatories are Irish Americans, several have not been associated with the Irish cause in the past.

In accusing British forces of using unnecessary lethal force in the province, the senators cite the recent shooting of an 18-year-old, Peter MacBride, who, they say, 'was reportedly running away from police' when shot. They complain about violation of the normal civil liberties of suspects detained by British forces and police, including, the letter says, making arrests without warrants and limiting the right of suspects to

remain silent.

It continues: 'These practices are in clear violation of accepted international standards.'

The letter includes allegations of 'collusion between British security forces and loyalist paramilitary factions such as the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force'. The senators raise the case of Brian Nelson, a British Army agent accused of passing military intelligence to UDA officials.

Britain sought yesterday to soften the impact of another point of contention to be raised at today's Clinton-Major talks in Washington - the US decision to drop relief supplies over Bosnia, and Britain's refusal to take part.

The Government has made clear privately that it considers the plan impracticable and fraught with risks. But Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, while telling the Commons of Britain's decision not to take part in the air-drop, welcomed the US attempt to ease the plight of the Bosnians.

RAF ruled out, page 7

Washington and UN agree, page 9