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17 April 1997 Edition

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Loyalists forces nationalists from their homes

By Mick Naughton.

As 17 RUC and British army personnel carriers full of riot squads looked on, 45 year old Martin Nelson took a double attack of asthma in his besieged Limestone Road flat in North Belfast last weekend. Even as he was carried into an ambulance a loyalist mob continued hurling abuse at him.

``Die you fenian bastard, die,'' they chanted as a neighbour frantically held the back door of the flat closed to the mob. Two RUC members in full riot gear, when asked for help to keep the last barrier closed between the eight Catholic residents and the 200-plus strong mob, ran out of the flat shouting ``there is nothing we can do.''

While Martin Nelson was being taken to the Royal Victoria hospital the loyalists finally broke down the rear doors into the block of flats.

On his release from hospital as friends removed what was left of his personal belongings a clearly distressed Nelson pointed out the smashed holy picture and the place where his TV and video had been. ``I couldn't go on, next time it would be lives taken, so there won't be a next time for me,'' he said.

Seconds later he was among the last of the eight Catholic residents to leave the Limestone. Across the road 75 year old pensioner Mary Boyd was cowering behind blockboard on her shattered front windows. Hers was among 17 homes, including some in Parkside Gardens and Parkend Street, which were targeted by the loyalist mobs over a three day period begining last Friday night 11 April.

Following Friday's violence loyalists assembled again in Tigers Bay on Saturday at 6.30pm at the Hallidays Road/Limestone junction. Last summer loyalists made almost nightly attacks on nationalist streets around this area, spurred on by local and outside UDA members - at one point four gunmen and a hooded woman appeared brandishing weapons and reading out a UDA statement.

Their presence was again felt when identified loyalists were spotted among last weekend's mob. The RUC were also aware of their presence but refused to confront them. ``On one stage on Saturday night we were informed by a senior RUC officer that we should get off the streets altogether because they had seen `known players' in the loyalist area,'' said the chair of Newington Residents Association.

He was speaking on Monday during a period of calm which was achieved after hours of dialogue and meetings among community representatives and local politicans.

Visiting the scene and talking with evacuated residents on Monday morning north Belfast candidate Gerry Kelly praised their efforts. He said that Sinn Féin activists on the ground had responded positively to the worsening situation and stated that what had occurred was not simply ``mindless sectarianism.''

``The people I talked to this afternoon are all victims of an orchestrated loyalist attack on nationalist residents of the Limestone Road area. It is clearly not good enough in this day and age in the city of Belfast that scenes reminiscent of those of the turn of the century and the inception of the six county state are still visited upon us,'' he said.

``The events of the weekend must serve as a stark reminder to us all of the responsibilites we face in terms of creating a climate in which people can live without fear of this type of onslaught. There is an immediate onus on all people of influence to do all in their power to defuse this situation. But yet again the role of the RUC has been called into question. While homes were coming under attack the RUC assumed the role of spectator. In fact rather than offer practical assistance the RUC advised people of this area that their safety could not be guaranteed. It seems that the laissez-faire approach to loyalist violence of last summer remains RUC policy.

``The events of the weekend represents a personal tragedy to nationalist people of this area. I call upon the Housing Executive to ensure proper and expeditious attention to those people forced from their homes and would remind Housing Executive officials that there are still a large number of people yet to be re-housed after similar events in north Belfast last summer.''

McMANUS BLAMES LOYALIST FEUD



Following the orchestrated loyalist attacks in the Limestone Road area Sinn Fein councillor Paddy McManus told An Phoblacht that the attacks were a spin-off from a power struggle between the UDA and UVF in the York Road area. The feud began last May when a former UVF prisoner and his associates were attacked near a bar in the area. One was seriously injured and remains on a life support machine.

``For the past few months there have been clashes between these groups vying over who controls racketeering in North Belfast and Catholics are now the victims of this loyalist feud as the UDA is flexing its muscle by bringing these gangs on to the streets.''

McManus said that seven days before the Limestone attacks over 100 loyalists were involved in a riot among themselves in York Road, the latest incident in the year long feud between the UDA and UVF. One UDA member from Ballysillan was attacked by the UVF in a bar close to where the original attack happened. After this car loads of loyalists made their way to the area. Using cudgels and iron bars the two factions attacked each other with several being hospitalised.

``Now that the UDA has these gangs on the streets they see Catholics as fair game and are attacking them,'' McManus said.
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