28 July 2005 Edition
Unionist paramilitary feud escalates
The feud amongst unionist paramilitary gangs intensified this week. Belfast witnessed numerous bombings and shootings, while hundreds of UVF and UDA members invaded an East Belfast housing estate. The invasion of the Garnerville Estate in East Belfast on Sunday 24 July was apparently aimed at driving out up to six LVF members using it as a base for drug-dealing.
The expulsions, which took place directly opposite the PSNI Training Centre at Garnerville, saw the area occupied by over 300 masked unionist paramilitaries, some of whom were said to be armed and wearing bullet-proof vests. Scores of PSNI members and British soldiers stood by looking on.
Amid reports that the UVF and UDA have resurrected the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC), excluding the LVF, their joint action in Garnerville is seen as underlining the UVF threat to wipe out the LVF. A senior UVF figure told journalists there will be no end to the feud until the rival faction has been "crushed".
News that the UDA is backing the UVF in its purge is a demonstration of unionist paramilitary unity not seen since they announced 'ceasefires'' in October 1994.
Reacting to the situation in the Garnerville Estate Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said: "The situation in Garnerville is collusion between the PSNI and loyalist gangs in a very public way.
"The sight of hundreds of masked loyalists on the streets, intimidating families, side by side with the British Army and PSNI and within yards of the PSNI Training Centre obviously has an impact on confidence in the wider Peace Process," stressed Kelly.
After they took over the area the loyalists maintained their presence right through Monday the 25th and into Tuesday. Despite the heavy PSNI and British Army presence they roamed the streets unhindered.
At least six families were threatened out of the estate. One of those forced out is Tommy Warnock, relative of LVF drug dealer Stephen Warnock, shot dead by the UVF in 2003. His home, protected by bullet-proof windows, lay empty as UVF and UDA gangs stood nearby to prevent his return. The LVF's so-called commander in North Down has also moved out of the Hollywood area.
British soldiers patrolled the alleyways while senior PSNI member in short-sleeved shirts negotiated with UVF members at the estate to allow a removal lorry recover the possessions of those who fled.
The ongoing loyalist feud has already claimed the lives of North Belfast men Jameson Lockhart and Craig McCausland, who were gunned down by the UVF.
Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey accused the unionist political establishment of tolerating sectarian murder gangs: "For decades the unionist political establishment has turned a blind eye to the activities of the various unionist paramilitary gangs. This attitude has been repeated again throughout this latest feud as night after night attacks have taken place across North and East Belfast with minimal comment from either unionist party."
While loyalist tensions remain high in East Belfast it is understood that concerns are rising in North Belfast as some LVF men who fled East Belfast have re-grouped in the Ballysillan area. The LVF is being blamed for an arson attack on the offices of Sunningdale taxis in Ballysillan in the early hours of Monday 25 July. The office was extensively damaged in the attack.
A number of hours later a couple and their son had a lucky escape when a blast bomb was thrown at their home in the Ballygomartin area of North Belfast.
It is believed the bomb attack was meant for the home of a senior UDA figure who lives nearby.
Loyalist sources say the latest attacks by the LVF are in retaliation for the Garnerville expulsions and two shootings, last week, in East Belfast which were the work of the UVF.