REPUBLICAN areas of Northern Ireland are bracing themselves for the possibility of a re- run of the vicious Irish National Liberation Army feud of 1986-87 in which 12 people died.
On that occasion the INLA divided into two factions, one retaining that name and the other styling itself the Irish People's Liberation Organisation.
Now the IPLO has itself split into two parts, known as the army council and the Belfast brigade. The latter has warned that the army council's leader will be shot on sight and warned two other men to leave the country.
The funeral took place in Belfast yesterday of the first casualty of the split. Jimmy Brown, 36, was shot earlier this week as he sat in a car in the Falls Road district of Belfast. His associates listened impassively as a priest called for no retaliation for his murder.
Later, in Milltown cemetery, a woman speaker told several hundred people that Brown had been a fearless fighter directly involved in actions against Crown forces. She said he had been 'one of life's givers' - a Communist who did not own a single possession apart from the clothes on his back and his books.
There was applause when she said his death had been marked by a volley of shots fired in the Lower Falls. Wreaths were laid from various IPLO sections.
The two factions now squaring up accuse each other of involvement in drugs-dealing. The army council said earlier this week that Brown had been killed by an ex- member of the organisation who was 'an element of a drug gang controlled by British intelligence'. It added that the murder would 'not go without the perpetrators being disciplined but that is not a feud situation'.
This may have been a signal that it wished to avoid all-out war, but the Belfast brigade faction, which admits killing Brown, has been markedly more belligerent. Three masked men representing this gang told a Belfast newspaper that the army council's leader was in fact 'a drug baron' who had been involved in collecting 12,500 ecstasy tablets.
The alleged drugs baron is thought to have escaped injury in the attack on Brown. He had only recently returned to Belfast following his involvement in the murder of a snooker club manager in the city. That shooting is said to have been captured on the club's security video camera.
After Brown's killing he drove directly to Dublin where he gave an interview to a journalist who noted that his jeans and jacket were smeared with blood.
The Belfast brigade said Brown had been killed because he had refused to set up a court of inquiry into drugs, and had instead issued threats against a number of individuals who knew too much about the drugs involvement.
A characteristic of the IPLO has been its rhetorical emphasis on internal discipline. The army council says it is constantly disciplining members, either by expulsion or other methods. Jimmy Brown's eulogist said yesterday that he sometimes came into contact with people 'who had to be disciplined or expelled'.
Few outside the organisation, however, believe that such language is anything other than a cloak for the scrapping which is endemic in the organisation.
The Belfast brigade appears intent on a full-scale feud, warning that it will take action against anybody who is seen to associate with the 'drug baron'. In similar circumstances in the past, some Belfast priests and other figures have become involved in attempts at mediation. Such moves may soon be under way again.
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